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Israeli army withdraws from southern Gaza Strip

Photo: Mohammed Abed Agence France-Presse Displaced Palestinians from Khan Yunis are returning home after finding refuge in Rafah, further south near the closed border with Egypt.

Jay Deshmukh – Agence France-Presse in Jerusalem

April 7, 2024

  • Middle East

Israel withdrew its troops from the south of the Gaza Strip, notably from the town of Khan Younes, after months of fierce fighting against Hamas which caused a humanitarian catastrophe and earned Israel a round of criticism, including from its allies .

“Today, Sunday, April 7, the Israeli Army’s 98th Commando Division completed its mission in Khan Yunis. The division left the Gaza Strip in order […] to prepare for future operations,” the army said in a statement sent to AFP.

The army clarified that a “significant force” would continue to operate in the small Palestinian territory according to its strategic needs, in the seventh month of a devastating war waged by Israel against the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“A significant force led by the 162nd Division and the Nahal Brigade continues to operate in the Gaza Strip to ensure the army's freedom of action and its ability to conduct precise, intelligence-based operations,” he said. press release.

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“From what we understand, and from their public announcements, this is in fact a period of rest and fitness for these troops who have been on the ground since four months,” John Kirby, a White House spokesperson, told ABC.

The Israeli daily Haaretz, for its part, argues that the withdrawal of the infantry from the south of the Gaza Strip is motivated by the fact that the army has achieved its objectives there.

According to a military official cited by the newspaper, Israel “no longer needs to remain in the strategic sector without necessity”. “The 98th Division dismantled the Hamas brigades in Khan Yunis and killed thousands of their members. We did everything we had to do there.”

But for Omer Dostri, expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), the main reason for this withdrawal is “the great pressure” recently exerted by Washington, as he declared at the 'AFP.

US President Joe Biden raised for the first time on Thursday the possibility of conditioning his aid to Israel on “tangible” measures to improve the humanitarian situation and the preservation of civilians in Gaza.

The reduction of Israeli forces on the ground “can be useful in the context of negotiations” for a truce and the return of Israeli hostages still held in the Gaza Strip, deciphers Omer Dostri.

Rafah, next target

As a result of this withdrawal, the Palestinians displaced from Khan Younes – only a part of the displaced – can now theoretically return home after having found refuge in Rafah, further south near the closed border with Egypt .

On Sunday, an AFP photographer saw dozens of people leaving Rafah towards Khan Younes, on foot, by car or on carts pulled by donkeys.

This large, once densely populated city has been the scene of incessant airstrikes and intense fighting for months, and much of the housing and infrastructure has been razed.

Attention is now focused on Rafah where, despite the concern of many foreign capitals, Israel has said it is determined to launch a ground offensive even though more than 1.5 million Gazans have found themselves there refuge.

According to Omer Dostri, after the evacuation of civilians, “within two months there will be a [land] operation in Rafah to destroy the remaining Hamas brigades.”

He adds that once Hamas is eliminated in Gaza, Israel “will launch a campaign in the north” against Hezbollah based in southern Lebanon with which the army has exchanged fire almost daily since October 7, a sign of an exacerbation tensions in the region.

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas's unprecedented attack on Israeli territory on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, most of them civilians, according to a count from AFP based on official Israeli figures.

At least 33,175 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israel's military reprisal campaign, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza controlled since 2007 by Hamas.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116