Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant yesterday regarding the negotiations for the release of hostages and a temporary ceasefire, according to a Pentagon news release.

Austin raised the need to consider alternatives to a major ground operation in Rafah while reiterating the shared goal of defeating Hamas.

The two also discussed the need to do more to protect civilians and urgently increase the flow of aid into Gaza through land crossings.  

Austin said he appreciated Gallant’s firm and full commitment to protecting U.S. service members in the eastern Mediterranean who will enable the maritime humanitarian aid corridor.

Austin said he also looks forward to hosting Gallant at the Pentagon, March 26, for a bilateral meeting to continue these conversations. 

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh, who briefed the media today, said next week’s bilateral meeting between the two defense leaders is separate from the meeting announced by the White House following a March 18 call between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which the prime minister agreed to send a senior interagency team composed of military intelligence and humanitarian officials to Washington, D.C.

Biden and Netanyahu agreed to have their teams meet soon in Washington to exchange views and discuss alternative approaches that would target key elements of Hamas and secure the Egypt-Gaza border without a major ground operation in Rafah, according to a March 18 White House statement. 

Separately, the Bob Hope-class MV Roy P. Benavidez, a large, medium speed roll-on, roll-off ship, departed Newport News, Virginia today, carrying heavy equipment and material needed to construct a temporary pier to support the flow of multinational humanitarian aid into Gaza, according to the U.S. Transportation Command and the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command.

The ship will anchor in the Newport News area to receive fuel prior to proceeding to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Benavidez is part of the broader U.S. government’s efforts to provide food, water and other humanitarian aid to Gaza, Singh said.

The Benavidez, part of the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Fleet, is transporting components for a floating modular pier system which will be delivered to the U.S. Army’s 7th Transportation Brigade who will construct the temporary pier in the Mediterranean. 

This capability is known as Joint Logistics-Over-the-Shore, or JLOTS. 

“JLOTS is a critical capability that allows ship-to-shore cargo distribution in the absence of a usable pier,” said Army Lt. Gen. John P. Sullivan, deputy commander, Transcom. “It can be used to augment, an established port or to create a pier where one is needed and allows us to support areas where large populations are isolated from food, water and other forms of humanitarian aid.” 

JLOTS operations are part of Transcom’s strategic sealift mission, operated by MSC for the current JLOTS mission. The Benavidez is crewed by contracted merchant mariners and is dry cargo surge sealift carrier capable of transporting up to 380,000 square feet of containerized cargo and rolling stock between developed ports.

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