WASHINGTON – The Biden administration has advised Israel to delay a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, according to several US officials.
They say they hope to buy time for hostage negotiations and to allow more humanitarian aid to reach Palestinians in the sealed-off enclave.
US officials also want more time to prepare for attacks on US interests in the region from Iran-backed groups, which officials said are likely to intensify once Israel moves its forces fully into Gaza.
The administration is not making a demand of Israel and still supports the ground invasion and Israel’s goal of eradicating Hamas, officials said.
But fast-moving events since Hamas released two American women on Oct 20 have spurred the administration to more urgently suggest that Israelis allow time to negotiate the release of 212 other hostages, officials said.
US President Joe Biden called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday afternoon to discuss the latest developments, the White House said.
The US President and Mr Netanyahu agreed that after the entry of the first two convoys of humanitarian aid into Gaza on Saturday, there “will now be continued flow of this critical assistance”, a White House summary of the call said.
The leaders also “discussed ongoing efforts to secure the release of all the remaining hostages taken by Hamas – including US citizens – and to provide for safe passage for US citizens and other civilians in Gaza who wish to depart”, the White House said.
Two US officials said the advice to Israelis to hold off on the land war was being conveyed through Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin because the Pentagon is helping advise Israel on military actions, including the ground invasion.
Mr Austin has had near daily calls with his Israeli counterpart, Mr Yoav Gallant, to discuss operational matters, American arms shipments to Israel and US military deployments to the region.
He has also talked about recovering the hostages as a priority, one US official said.
A spokesperson for Mr Gallant declined to comment on the conversations.
A diplomat from the Israeli Embassy in Washington denied that the US government was advising Israelis to delay the ground invasion and said: “We have a close dialogue and consultations with the US administration. The US is not pressing Israel in regards to the ground operation.”
An official with knowledge of the hostage negotiations, which are taking place mainly through Qatar, said Hamas had warned that a ground invasion would make hostage releases much less likely.
Qatar has close ties to the political leaders of Hamas.
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