Israel says it will pull out thousands of troops from Gaza

Israel has come under pressure from its principal ally, the United States, to move to a more low-intensity war.

Israeli soldiers walk next to tanks,
Israeli soldiers walk next to tanks in southern Israel, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas [Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters]

The Israeli military has announced that it will withdraw thousands of its soldiers from the besieged Gaza Strip in the first significant pullback of troops since the war there began in October.

Israel has come under increasing pressure from its principal ally, the United States, to move to a more low-intensity war that has fewer civilian casualties.

But in the southern city of Khan Younis, fierce fighting has continued as Israel reaffirms its pledge to press on with the war until its goals have been achieved, including destroying the Palestinian group Hamas, which killed around 1,140 people in attacks on southern Israel on October 7, according to Israeli officials.

In a statement, the military said on Monday that five brigades, or several thousand troops, were being taken out of the enclave for training and rest.

Army spokesperson Daniel Hagari did not say whether the decision meant the war was entering into a new phase during a briefing on Sunday that first announced the troop withdrawal.

“The objectives of the war require prolonged fighting, and we are preparing accordingly,” he said.

Palestinians inspect the damage of a destroyed house
Palestinians inspect the damage to a destroyed house following Israeli air strikes on Khan Younis, in the Southern Gaza Strip [Mohammed Dahman/AP Photo]

New stage?

Shlomo Brom, a retired brigadier general previously in charge of strategic planning in the Israeli military, said the troop changes may be due to US pressure and could signal a shift in the way Israel is conducting the war.

“The war is not stopping,” said Brom. “It is the beginning of a different mode of operations”.

Israeli officials have said they would wage the war in three main stages. The first was intense shelling to clear access routes for ground forces and encourage civilians to evacuate. The second was the invasion of the Gaza Strip that began on October 27.

With tanks and troops having now overrun much of the Strip, largely asserting control despite Palestinian gunmen continuing their ambushes from hidden tunnels and bunkers, the military is moving to the third stage, an Israeli official, who could not be named given the sensitivity of the issue, told the Reuters news agency.

“This will take six months at least, and involve intense mopping-up missions against the terrorists. No one is talking about doves of peace being flown from Shujayea,” the official was quoted as saying, referring to a Gaza district ravaged by fighting.

Separately on Monday, the US announced that it would be taking an aircraft carrier strike group back from the eastern Mediterranean and replacing it with an amphibious assault ship and accompanying warships.

Palestinian health authorities say at least 21,978 people have been killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza since October 7.

The Israeli military said last week that at least 172 soldiers had been killed since the ground operation began in late October, including 18 by friendly fire and 11 by weapons or equipment malfunctions.

Cross-border fighting

Since the outbreak of the war, the Israeli military has engaged in cross-border battles with the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah.

On Monday, Hezbollah said on Telegram that three of its fighters had been killed in southern Lebanon. While it gave no detail about how they were killed, the groups said they “were martyred on the road to [liberate] Jerusalem”.

The Israeli military said it hit a series of targets in Lebanon, including “military sites” where Hezbollah was operating.

According to Hezbollah and security sources who have spoken to the Reuters news agency, more than 100 Hezbollah fighters and nearly two dozen civilians, including children and the elderly, have died.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies