Israel claims to have withdrawn some troops from Gaza

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with the German Chancellor after their meeting in Jerusalem on March 17, 2024. Netanyahu said Sunday, April 7, 2024, that Israel is “one step away from victory” in its war against Hamas in Gaza. (Leo Correa/Pool/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with the German Chancellor after their meeting in Jerusalem on March 17, 2024. Netanyahu said Sunday, April 7, 2024, that Israel is “one step away from victory” in its war against Hamas in Gaza. (Leo Correa/Pool/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Alisa Odenheimer
Bloomberg News
(TNS)

Military officials said on Sunday that Israel is pulling some troops out of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, saying it had ended its mission there as the war against Hamas reached the six-month mark.

“The 98th Commando Division has concluded its mission in Khan Yunis,” the army said in a statement. “The division left the Gaza Strip in order to recuperate and prepare for future operations.”

A significant Israel Defense Forces contingent will continue to operate in the enclave, Israel said in the statement.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, citing an official, reported that Palestinians earlier displaced from Khan Yunis may now be able to return to their homes from Rafah, along the border with Egypt, where they’ve been sheltering. Parts of Khan Yunis have been reduced to rubble.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel is “one step away from victory” in its war against Hamas in Gaza, triggered by the deadly attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.

Some 1,200 people were killed in those attacks, with hundreds taken hostage. More than 31,000 Palestinians have died in Israel’s military response, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

Netanyahu also said there would be “no cease-fire without the return of hostages” held in Gaza by Hamas since October. Hamas is designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union.

Appearing Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” White House spokesman John Kirby said Israel’s partial troop withdrawal seemed to be “about rest and refit” for soldiers who’ve been on the ground for months.

Still, Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and close ally of President Joe Biden, said the move looked like a tactical decision “in the face of a threat of a real attack from the north from Hezbollah or a direct attack from Iran.”

“There will still be thousands of IDF soldiers in the south of Gaza,” Coons said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Earlier, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel’s military has completed preparations to respond to any scenario that may develop regarding Iran, which has vowed revenge for a suspected Israeli attack on its embassy in Syria on April 1.

It’s unclear when that may happen or whether Iran would try to attack Israel directly or through one of its proxy groups such as Hezbollah, based in Lebanon. An Iranian official warned Sunday that Israel embassies are “no longer safe.”

“This war revealed to the world what Israel always knew — Iran is the one behind the attack against us through its proxies,” Netanyahu said Sunday.

“Anyone who hurts us or plans to hurt us — we will hurt him. We put this principle into practice, all the time and in recent days.”

The strike in Damascus destroyed the consulate building and killed at least 13 people, including seven Iranian military personnel and six Syrian nationals, according to Iranian state media.

Israel didn’t confirm the attack, consistent with its usual response to accusations of targeting Iran.

Israel “will be punished. We will make them regret their crime,” Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on April 2, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

On Sunday, Yahya Rahim-Safavi, a senior military adviser to Khamanei, said on state TV that “none of Israel’s embassies are safe any more.” Multiple Israeli embassies around the Middle East have been “shut out of fear,” he added.

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(With assistance from Arsalan Shahla, Ian Fisher and Tony Czuczka.)

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