IDF withdraws ground troops from south Gaza, leaving just one brigade in whole enclave
Israel at warTroops leave Khan Younis; Nahal still securing cross-Strip corridor

IDF withdraws ground troops from south Gaza, leaving just one brigade in whole enclave

Military sees targeted raids with new intel as more effective way to fight Hamas; Rafah plans not affected, since op there would in any case need major call-up of fresh reserve forces

Troops of the Givati Brigade operate in the Khan Younis neighborhood of al-Amal, in a handout image published April 6, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Troops of the Givati Brigade operate in the Khan Younis neighborhood of al-Amal, in a handout image published April 6, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces withdrew all of its maneuvering ground forces from the Gaza Strip early Sunday morning, leaving just one brigade to secure a corridor splitting the Palestinian enclave.

Troops of the 98th Division were pulled out of the Khan Younis area after four straight months of fighting, the IDF said.

Only one brigade, Nahal, remains in the Gaza Strip. The Nahal Brigade has been tasked with securing the so-called Netzarim Corridor, which crosses Gaza from the Be’eri area in southern Israel to the Strip’s coast.

Hours after the withdrawal, five rockets were fired from the Khan Younis area at communities near the Gaza border.

According to the IDF, some of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

Sunday’s withdrawal appeared to be a move similar to that carried out in the northern Gaza Strip following the IDF’s initial ground offensive last year. After several months of a large-scale offensive with several divisions, the IDF left northern Gaza, only to return to carry out smaller, localized, operations.

The IDF believes that raids based on new intelligence, such as the recent operation at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital and others in the northern part of the Strip, are a more effective way to operate against Hamas.

The offensive in Khan Younis achieved its goal, according to the IDF, with the local Hamas brigade dismantled, thousands of gunmen killed, and around 30 kilometers of tunnels destroyed.

The 98th Division also needed time for R&R after its lengthy fighting.

Israeli officials have said that 18 of Hamas’s 24 original battalions in the Gaza Strip have been dismantled, meaning they do not function as an organized military unit, although smaller cells still exist.

No implications for Rafah

Four Hamas battalions remain in southern Gaza’s Rafah, and another two in the central part of the Strip.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said he has approved the military’s plans for an operation in Rafah, although he has not given the green light to carry them out.

The planned Rafah offensive has caused intense consternation in the international community, including from the US and Egypt, due to the southern Gaza city now hosting over a million displaced Palestinians from elsewhere in in the Strip. Israel has said it is making plans to evacuate and protect civilians from Rafah as part of its offensive plans.

An Israeli assault in Rafah would not be affected by the drawdown announced Sunday, as such an operation would entail a significant call-up of fresh reserve forces.

The war began on October 7 with Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel in which terrorists rampaged through the south, murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253.

Talks for a hostage deal and truce have made no headway since a weeklong ceasefire in November, the only one since the start of the war, which saw the exchange of dozens of hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian security prisoners detained by Israel.

The Hamas side of the talks is indirect, with proposals relayed through third parties to terror leaders hiding in tunnels beneath Gaza.

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted by Hamas and other terror groups on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that.

Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 34 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Amid the IDF’s ground offensive, launched in late October, 260 soldiers were killed and 1,552 were wounded.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 33,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7. PJC

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