“US seeking delay of Israeli ground military operation to allow more time for hostage negotiations”

The US government has pressed Israel to delay its imminent land invasion of the Gaza Strip to allow for the release of more Hamas hostages and aid into the besieged enclave, according to two sources briefed on the discussions.

The Friday release of two Americans held by Hamas signaled the possible freeing of more of the around 200 captivates.

“The [administration] pressed Israeli leadership to delay because of progress on the hostage front”, and the need to get trucks of aid into Gaza, one person familiar with the discussions said.

When US President Joe Biden was asked Saturday if he was encouraging Israel to delay the invasion, he responded: “I’m talking to the Israelis.”

Qatar, acting as a middle man for the US and Israel, has been leading the discussions with Hamas about releasing the hostages since they were abducted by Hamas two weeks ago.

According to a diplomat briefed on the talks, the negotiations have included talks about getting much-needed aid into Gaza and the need for a temporary ceasefire to get the prisoners out. Israel has not indicated they are considering a ceasefire.

Hamas does not appear to have gotten anything concrete out of the Friday release of Judith Tai and Natalie Raanan.

Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said in a statement Saturday they were prepared to release two “detained individuals” whom they identified by name.

“The same procedures” used to release the Raanans would be employed for the new proposed release, the statement added.

The office of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the claim Saturday evening, saying it would not comment on “false Hamas propaganda”, adding Israel’s government would “continue to do everything necessary to bring all the captives and missing back home”.

An official in the Israeli prime minister’s office told CNN on Friday, after news of the Americans’ release, that it may have been an attempt by Hamas to lessen the Israeli military response.

“That [military] pressure isn’t going to go because they were released,” the official stated, adding, “It won’t change the mission, which is to dismantle Hamas.”

Hamas estimates 200-250 people are held in Gaza but said they couldn’t provide an exact number due to “operational difficulties” caused by the incessant Israeli bombardment.

Last week, Senior Hamas leader Saleh Al-Arouri stated that the group had captured enough Israeli soldiers during an unprecedented attack against Israel to make Israeli authorities free all Palestinian prisoners in its jails.

“Our detainees in [Israeli] prisons, their freedom is looming large. What we have in our hands will release all our prisoners. The longer fighting continues, the higher the number of prisoners will become,” Al-Arouri continued.

He added that senior officers were among those captured, but did not provide any figures.

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