Thousands of Israeli soldiers moved out of Gaza in first significant drawdown of war

By Isaac M January 2, 2024

Thousands of Israeli soldiers are being moved out of the Gaza Strip, the military has said, marking the first significant drawdown of troops since the war began.

Israel also pulled tanks out of some Gaza City districts, residents said, in what the US said was a shift to different military tactics in northern Gaza.

The US, Israel’s chief ally, has pressured the country in recent weeks to switch to lower-intensity fighting.

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Five brigades, totalling several thousand troops, will be taken out of the enclave in the coming weeks for training and rest, the IDF said.

But fierce fighting continued in other areas of Gaza, especially the southern city of Khan Younis and central areas of the territory.

Israeli army spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari did not say whether the decision means Israel is launching a new phase of the war.

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

Mark Regev, an adviser to Mr Netanyahu, described the war against Hamas as a “marathon” and spoke of the need to take troops out to rest them.

He told Sky News: “We have to be able to rotate our troops in and out as is needed.”

News of the drawdown came ahead of a visit by US secretary of state Antony Blinken to the region and after the Biden administration bypassed Congress for the second time this month to approve an emergency weapons sale to Israel.

Antony Blinken with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in January 2023
Antony Blinken with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in January 2023

Israel has vowed to charge ahead until its war aims have been achieved, including dismantling Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for 16 years.

Israel responded to the Hamas attack on 7 October with a blistering air, ground and sea offensive that has killed more than 21,800 people in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

The war has displaced some 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, sending hordes of people seeking shelter in Israeli-designated safe areas that the military has nevertheless bombed.

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There were several other developments in the Israel-Hamas war as New Year’s Day came to a close:

Hezbollah said four of its fighters were killed in southern Lebanon;
• Also in Lebanon, the Israeli military said it struck Hezbollah targets and that five soldiers were wounded by cross-border fire;
Hamas fired a large barrage of rockets towards Israel, including its commercial hub Tel Aviv, as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve;
• Israel’s defence minister says some communities that had been evacuated to the north of the Gaza Strip will be able to return soon;
• The US Navy said it will end the deployment of the Gerald R Ford aircraft carrier in the Middle East which started after the 7 October attack.


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