US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III called Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant on Saturday to discuss the status of the release of hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza, Report informs, citing the Pentagon press service.

He acknowledged the critical roles played by the governments of Israel, Qatar and Egypt in reaching an agreement that will also see increased humanitarian aid and fuel deliveries to civilians in Gaza. Secretary Austin shared his view that humanitarian aid must increase, and that civilians must have safe areas to receive aid across Gaza, which will require deconfliction with the United Nations and communication with governments and international organizations coordinating delivery of aid.

The Secretary underscored his unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorism, and received updates on the Israel Defense Forces’ operational pause in Gaza while hostages are released.

Turning to the north, Secretary Austin reaffirmed the US interest in preventing the conflict in Gaza from expanding into Lebanon. He condemned the continued cross-border attacks from Lebanon into Israel and expressed his support for the safe return of Israeli civilians to their homes in the north.