Israel Withdraws Almost All Troops From Southern Gaza
Israel Withdraws Almost All Troops From Southern Gaza

By Naveen Athrappully

Israel withdrew more troops from southern Gaza on April 7, leaving only a single division in the area as the country faces growing pressure from the United States and internationally to improve humanitarian conditions in the region.

“Today, Sunday April 7th, the IDF’s 98th commando division has concluded its mission in Khan Yunis. The division left the Gaza strip in order to recuperate and prepare for future operations,” the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement. “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.”

Israel has been cutting down its troop numbers in Gaza since the beginning of 2024 in a bid to relieve reservists. Six months of combat have strained the military and economy. Many Israeli security experts say they now see a greater threat from Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The troop withdrawal comes as Israel is under increased pressure from the United States. President Joe Biden has demanded an improvement in humanitarian conditions in Gaza and called on Israel to work toward a cease-fire, saying further U.S. support will depend on that. The United States is a major supplier of arms to Israel’s military.

President Biden has also urged leaders of Egypt and Qatar to pressure the Hamas terrorist group to agree to a cease-fire and arrive at a hostage deal ahead of a fresh round of talks in Cairo.

Former President Donald Trump said in an April 4 interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that Israel’s government should “get it over with, and let’s get back to peace and stop killing people.”

“I’m not sure that I’m loving the way they’re doing it, because you’ve got to have victory. You have to have a victory, and it’s taking a long time,” President Trump said.

“And the other thing is I hate, they put out tapes all the time. Every night, they’re releasing tapes of a building falling down. They shouldn’t be releasing tapes like that. … That’s why they’re losing the PR war.”

Israel recently took a major public relations hit when its forces killed seven members of the World Central Kitchen (WCK), a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization. According to the WCK, the workers were traveling in a “deconflicted zone” when they were caught in the middle of an airstrike.

Following the incident, WCK suspended aid operations in Gaza. The IDF dismissed two officers while reprimanding three more for their involvement in the drone strikes that killed WCK aid workers.

The military agency later stated that the aid convoy was mistaken for Hamas operatives.

Rafah Operation

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the removal of military troops from Khan Yunis in southern Gaza is linked to a planned operation in Rafah, which is believed to be the last stronghold of Hamas.

“The forces came out of Gaza and are preparing for their future missions, we saw examples of such missions in action at Shifa Hospital, and also for their future mission in the Rafah area,” Mr. Gallant said, according to The Times of Israel.

“We will reach a situation where Hamas does not control the Gaza Strip and where it does not function as a military framework that poses a risk to the citizens of the State of Israel.”

Rafah, a city where about 1.5 million Palestinians have come seeking refuge from other parts of Gaza, is a key point of conflict between Israel and the Biden administration. President Biden has asked Israel to not conduct military incursions in Rafah, warning that doing so would be crossing a “red line.”

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a cabinet meeting last month that “no international pressure will stop Israel” from achieving its military goals.

“If we stop the war now before achieving all of its goals, the meaning is that Israel had lost the war and we will not allow this,” he said.

On April 4, during a meeting with a Republican congressional delegation, the Israeli prime minister called the war “a battle between not only Israel and Hamas, but I would say the axis of Iran, the terror axis of Iran that seeks to put the Middle East back into the Dark Ages and to force a terrible barbarism on us all.”

“This is a larger battle. Our battle is your battle. Our victory is your victory. And if we don’t have a victory, this will have enormous implications for American security, for our common future. So we must win,” he said.

It has been six months since the Oct. 7, 2023, massacre of more than 1,200 Israeli civilians and the abduction of hundreds more as hostages by Hamas, triggering the current war in the region.

According to the IDF, 133 hostages are still held by Hamas in Gaza; more than 12,000 rockets have been fired at Israel, with 9,000 coming from Gaza and the remaining 3,000 from Lebanon; 604 Israeli soldiers have fallen; and more than 32,000 terror targets have been struck by the IDF.

Reuters contributed to the report.

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