Israel Withdraws Troops From Southern Gaza as War Hits 6-Month Mark | Viral Trending Updates

Israel Withdraws Troops From Southern Gaza as War Hits 6-Month Mark | Viral Trending Updates

The Israeli military said Sunday that it had withdrawn a division of ground troops from the southern Gaza Strip, as international mediators gathered with hopes of brokering a temporary cease-fire six months into a war that has now become the longest involving Israel since the 1980s.

Israel has significantly reduced the number of troops it has on the ground in Gaza over the past several months. Only a fraction of the soldiers that it deployed in the territory earlier in the war against Hamas remain.

Now, the last group of Israeli soldiers in the southern city of Khan Younis has left Gaza in order “to recuperate and prepare for future operations,” the army said. The withdrawal of the soldiers, members of the 98th Division, means that no Israeli troops are actively maneuvering in southern Gaza, the Israeli news media reported.

But Israeli officials made clear that the army would stay in other parts of Gaza to preserve its “freedom of action and its ability to conduct precise intelligence-based operations.”

The drawdown from Khan Younis, about four months after Israeli forces invaded southern Gaza, raised questions about Israel’s plans in the face of widespread calls for it to de-escalate the conflict. It was also unclear what it might signal about Israel’s oft-stated plan to invade the southernmost city of Rafah, where more than a million have fled to escape the fighting.

Word that Israel had withdrawn the forces did little to calm Osama Asfour, 41, a resident of Khan Younis who has been sheltering in a tent in Rafah. Since the start of the war, the army has returned to areas of Gaza that its forces had previously left, especially in the north. Given that reality, Mr. Asfour said he had no immediate plans to head back to his city.

“The military might say it left today, but they can come back tomorrow,” Mr. Asfour, who was working at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, said in an interview. “I’m not going to go on an adventure with my life and my family’s lives.”

Even the Biden administration appeared to be uncertain.

“It’s hard to know exactly what that tells us right now,” John Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “As we understand it, and through their public announcements, it is really just about rest and refit for these troops that have been on the ground for four months, and not necessarily, that we can tell, indicative of some coming new operation for these troops.”

Indeed, even as the army exited Khan Younis, Israel and its military remained on high alert Sunday as it anticipated retribution from Iran for a recent strike in Syria that killed seven senior Iranian military officers. Iran’s leaders have pledged to avenge the killings.

On Sunday, the Israeli government, which has not publicly taken responsibility for the strike, said it was ready to respond if Iran retaliated. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that groups backed by Iran had been behind “many attacks” on Israel over the past six months and that they had been “intensifying their threats.”

“Israel is prepared — defensively and offensively — for any attempt to attack us, from anywhere,” he said ahead of a government meeting, according to remarks released by his office.

Despite the announced troop withdrawal, Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said the military was preparing for “follow-up missions” that included Rafah. “We will reach a point when Hamas no longer controls the Gaza Strip and does not function as a military framework that poses a threat to the citizens of the state of Israel,” he said.

With those tensions in the backdrop, officials from the United States, Egypt and Qatar began meeting in Cairo on Sunday, as were delegations from Israel and from Hamas. Their aim was to hammer out an agreement on a temporary cease-fire in Gaza and the release of hostages Hamas took when it led an attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

The outlines of a possible agreement have been clear for months, but the details have proved divisive. The terms would include, among other conditions, a cease-fire, the release of the hostages and the release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Hamas said on Saturday that a delegation of its leadership would be in Cairo but that it was sticking to an earlier proposal that it submitted in mid-March, including total Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, which Israeli officials vehemently reject.

The talks come amid mounting anger in Israel toward the government as the war entered its seventh month. Protesters have rallied in cities across the country, demanding that Mr. Netanyahu do more to bring the hostages home.

Though Israel has routed Hamas in much of Gaza, and fighting seems to have slowed, analysts and diplomats say the war appears to have reached an impasse, with no resolution in sight as humanitarian officials warn of a looming famine.

With Israel reluctant to agree to a cease-fire that allows Hamas to regroup in parts of Gaza, and Hamas wary of proposals that do not ensure its long-term survival, mediators have found it difficult to advance negotiations for a truce.

“The war is not over, and one cannot see a path forward to end it in a way that would bring about stability and humanitarian relief on the scale that is needed in any foreseeable future,” said Shibley Telhami, an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the University of Maryland.

The conflict is being drawn out by Israel’s reluctance to either hold ground it has captured or transfer its control to an alternative Palestinian leadership, creating a power vacuum. That vacuum has led to a breakdown in civil order, making it harder to distribute badly needed aid safely. Scores of Palestinians have been killed around aid convoys, amid chaos and Israeli fire.

Mohammed Radi, 36, a displaced restaurateur from Gaza City who has been sheltering in Rafah with his family, said that more than anything, he wanted the war to end.

“I feel frustrated and mentally crushed,” he said in an interview. “We are exhausted after six months in tents.”

Reporting was contributed by Iyad Abuheweila, Erica L. Green, Cassandra Vinograd and Aaron Boxerman.

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