WASHINGTON: Any move by Israel to occupy the Gaza Strip again would be a “big mistake,” US President Joe Biden said in an interview released on Sunday, as Israeli troops prepared for a ground invasion.

Israel, seeking vengeance for an attack by Hamas on October 7, has declared war on the militant group, launching a relentless bombing campaign and warning more than a million people in northern Gaza to move south ahead of the operation.

Asked by CBS news program 60 Minutes if he would support any occupation of Gaza by the American ally, Biden replied: “I think it’d be a big mistake.”

Hamas “don’t represent all the Palestinian people,” he continued.

But invading and “taking out the extremists” is a “necessary requirement,” he added.

The Hamas attack saw fighters shoot, stab and burn to death more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians. Israel’s reprisal attacks in the days since have flattened neighborhoods and killed at least 2,670 people in Gaza, the majority ordinary Palestinians.

Israel has faced grave warnings about the implications of putting boots on the ground in Gaza, with aid groups warning of a humanitarian disaster, fears of the conflict escalating, and the challenges of separating militants from civilians in the impoverished, densely occupied territory.

The Israeli military meanwhile on Monday raised the figure to 199 people confirmed to have been abducted by Hamas to the Gaza Strip in the militants’ cross-border attacks which sparked a devastating war.

“We have updated the families of 199 hostages,” military spokesman Daniel Hagari told a media briefing, revising up an earlier figure of 155 captives.

Israelis and foreigners are among those abducted in the Hamas assault on October 7.

“The efforts on the hostages are a top national priority,” Hagari said. “The army and Israel are working around the clock to bring them back.”

Israel first occupied Gaza during the 1967 Six-Day War, and it was only fully returned to Palestinians in 2005.

A year later, Israel imposed an air, land and sea blockade on the 140 square mile (362 square kilometer) strip of land, which is also bordered by Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.

In 2007 Israel tightened the blockade after Hamas took control of Gaza from the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

When asked if Hamas — whom Biden described as “a bunch of cowards” — must be eliminated entirely, he replied: “Yes I do.”

“But there needs to be a Palestinian authority. There needs to be a path to a Palestinian state,” he continued, reiterating the long-standing US call for a two-state solution.

60 Minutes journalist Scott Pelley also asked Biden if he could foresee US troops joining the war.

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Biden, who pulled US troops out of Afghanistan and has insisted that none will be sent to aid Ukraine as it holds off a Russian invasion, replied.

“Israel has one of the finest fighting forces in the country. I guarantee we’re gonna provide them everything they need,” he said.

The United States has already deployed two aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean in a powerful show of support for Israel.