Bloomberg quoted officials familiar with the matter as saying that Israel has decided to support diplomatic efforts to release prisoners held by resistance factions in the Gaza Strip, which could delay the ground operation on Gaza.

Citing the sources, Israel supports diplomatic efforts to persuade the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) to release prisoners from Gaza quickly and in large numbers.

The Americans conveyed to the Qataris that Israel would need much more than what is currently happening in terms of releases to influence an imminent ground operation, the agency said.

The officials said the shape of the ground operation could change if "hostage diplomacy" kept Israel in a critical position for longer and conditions on the ground changed.

They added that Israel had told Washington it would not wait long for the ground operation to begin in Gaza.

Zaher Jabarin, head of Hamas' prisoners' file, told Al Jazeera that the movement had told mediators that it did not mind the immediate release of civilian prisoners, "but that the logistical conditions on the ground prevent that, and when conditions on the ground allow, we will release them unconditionally."

The issue of Hamas and resistance prisoners gained new momentum after the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades released "two American hostages" last Friday after Qatari mediation.

Abu Obeida, the military spokesman for the Brigades, announced yesterday that the Israeli government had refused to receive "two Israeli hostages" that the Brigades had decided to release on humanitarian grounds.