May 27, 2024, Monday
Nepal 1:37:26 pm

Israeli military says it has withdrawn forces from Southern Gaza

The Nepal Weekly
April 9, 2024

The Israeli military has claimed it has withdrawn its ground forces from Khan Younis in southern Gaza after months of intense fighting that turned much of the city into ruins.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said on Sunday that its 98th division had “concluded its mission” in Khan Younis. The division was leaving the Gaza Strip to “recuperate and prepare for future operations.”

“A significant force led by the 162nd division and the Nahal brigade continues to operate in the Gaza strip, and will preserve the IDF’s freedom of action and its ability to conduct precise intelligence based operations,” said the IDF.

Early in the war, the Israeli military designated Khan Younis as a safer zone and told residents from northern Gaza to seek shelter there. But the IDF then focused its offensive on the city, forcing residents to again flee its advances.

The IDF does not comment on the number of its troops in Gaza, but an Israeli brigade typically has roughly a few thousand troops. It remains unclear precisely how many Israeli troops have withdrawn from Gaza. As of January, the 98th division was the military’s biggest-ever division, as it was specifically bolstered to fight Hamas in Khan Younis.

The withdrawal came amid international clamor for a pause in fighting and pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow more aid into Gaza, where a humanitarian catastrophe has gripped Palestinians.

But Netanyahu is also facing pressure from the right wing of his ruling coalition to press ahead with the wider offensive.

Israel’s ultra-right Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, warned on Monday that ”if the prime minister decides to end the war without launching an extensive attack on Rafah to defeat Hamas, he will not have a mandate to continue serving as prime minister.”

IDF Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said at a press meet Sunday the military is “far from stopping” its operations in the Gaza Strip following the withdrawal.

“We will not leave any Hamas brigades active – in any part of the Gaza Strip. We have plans and will act when we decide,” he said, adding that the military’s goals in Gaza have not been fully achieved, including the return of all hostages, the return of displaced residents to the north and the dismantling of Hamas throughout Gaza.

In response to a question about the effect of the military’s withdrawal of ground forces from Khan Younis in southern Gaza, Halevi said, “the military wing of Hamas is deterred, the vast majority of its battalions are dismantled and lost their capabilities. That military framework, which had many capabilities, is currently running as small terrorist cells.”

Halevi reiterated that the IDF has not left the Gaza Strip and that there are “many troops at this very hour” in the strip. “This is a long war; we can’t maintain the same (extent of) troop deployment,” he said, adding, “many achievements are yet to come on our way to the victory.” It’s unclear what the withdrawal means for Israel’s plans to invade Rafah, the southernmost part of “The troops exit and prepare ahead of their follow-up missions. We saw examples of such missions in action in Shifa. And also for their follow-up mission in the Rafah region,” Gallant said in remarks during his visit to the military’s Southern Command.

“We are reaching a situation where Hamas does not control the Gaza Strip and that it does not function as a military framework that poses a risk to the citizens of the State of Israel,” Gallant said, noting that he has completed a situational assessment of the IDF Southern Command as its forces are pulling out of Khan Younis. The defense minister added that Israeli forces in Khan Younis were successful in destroying “enemy targets, warehouses, weapons, underground [infrastructure], headquarters [and] communication rooms.”

Israeli public broadcaster and CNN affiliate Channel 11 on Sunday reported that the remaining forces would be located along the so-called Netzarim Corridor, a route that splits the Gaza Strip in two.