Japan and Australia have decided to postpone a meeting involving their foreign and defense ministers scheduled later this week amid the intensifying war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas, Japanese government sources said Monday.

The two governments had been arranging for the "two-plus-two" gathering in Tokyo on Friday to further boost their security ties against the backdrop of China's military buildup in the Indo-Pacific region, according to the sources.

Canberra has told Tokyo that it now needs to prioritize the protection of Australian citizens and consider responses to situations in the Middle East, the sources said.

Israel and Hamas have been fighting fierce battles since the Islamist militant group launched its surprise attack on Oct. 7. Many nations, including Japan and Australia, are actively engaged in securing the safety of their nationals there, including evacuating them.

The incursion by Hamas and the Israeli response together have killed thousands of civilians.

Japan ranks Australia as an important security partner second to its ally the United States, pledging to "build the closest cooperative relationship" with Canberra in its National Defense Strategy, revamped last December by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's government.

In August, the Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement took effect, enabling quicker deployment of defense personnel to either nation and easing restrictions on the transportation of weapons and supplies for joint drills and disaster relief operations.

Japan and Australia last held two-plus-two talks in December in Tokyo, vowing to expand joint exercises with the U.S. military to beef up trilateral defense cooperation in their joint statement.

The two countries are part of a four-way security framework with the United States and India, known as "the Quad," aimed at presenting a united front against China's expanding military and economic clout.