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Israel announces withdrawal of some troops from Gaza

Israel announces withdrawal of some troops from Gaza

TEL AVIV — Israel said it will be withdrawing some troops from Gaza this week, an indication it may be changing its tactics on the ground even as it remains committed to the war effort.

In a statement Monday, the Israel Defense Forces said that two brigades would be pulled back from Gaza this week. Three others would follow at an undisclosed date, the IDF said.

The details about the planned withdrawal come after Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesperson, said Sunday night that pulling back reservists “will significantly ease the burden on the economy and allow them to gather strength for the upcoming activities in the next year.”

Israel’s withdrawal of the five brigades could include several thousand soldiers, but Hagari vowed that “prolonged fighting” would continue into 2024. Analysts said the move indicated the military may be shifting to a more targeted approach amid pressure from the United States and other countries to mitigate the civilian toll of its operations in Gaza.

“This appears to be the start of the gradual shift to lower intensity operations in the north that we have been encouraging, which reflects the success the IDF has had in dismantling Hamas’s military capabilities there,” said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Israel’s military operations.

The IDF declined to provide figures for how many troops would be withdrawn.

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Since Hamas militants attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking some 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials, 21,978 people have been killed and 57,697 injured in Gaza, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. The war has displaced nearly 2 million people, who are suffering shortages of water, food and medical care.

Reducing the number of troops in Gaza appeared to signal a new stage of the war, one “of long-term, lower intensity combat, as the Biden administration has pushed for,” said Charles D. Freilich, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies and a former Israeli deputy national security adviser.

The United States has backed Israel’s fight against Hamas with weapons and diplomacy, while urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lessen the humanitarian toll of the offensive. Casualties in Gaza have continued to mount, and aid organizations have warned of an impending famine.

Hagari did not mention U.S. pressure in his statement, citing instead the economic burden the war has had on the country. The vast mobilization of more than 300,000 reservists for Israel’s war effort has dealt a blow to its workforce, especially in the high-tech sector. Economists interviewed by The Washington Post estimate that the war has cost the government about $18 billion — or $220 million a day.

Hagari said that combat had not stalled and would continue into 2024.

But “most of what can be achieved through the high-intensity combat has been achieved,” Freilich said.

“Hamas has been badly mauled but has not been destroyed or toppled as the governing body. And that effort will continue through a different approach, a longer-term one,” he said. It could include continued fighting in the city of Khan Younis and a potential push further south to target tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, he said.

In Israel’s north, tensions on the border with Lebanon continued to flare Monday. The IDF said rockets were fired into northern Israel, injuring five soldiers and that it struck military targets in Lebanon. Hezbollah said three of its fighters were killed Monday, Reuters reported, citing the group’s Telegram account.

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As Gaza rang in a new year, civilians said they felt no letup in the fighting.

“No one is talking about the new year here in Gaza. It’s a luxury thing no one here can afford now,” said one humanitarian worker in Rafah who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by his organization to speak.

Israeli strikes echoed across Deir al-Balah, al-Maghazi and Khan Younis in the first hours of the new year. Across the enclave, Gazans braced for the morning routine, when they examine the night’s full damage.

On Monday, 36-year-old Rafif Aziz craved the homemade sweets she typically ate on New Year’s Day with her husband and children as they discussed their hopes for the coming year.

“For hours yesterday, they have not stopped asking me about the sweets they are accustomed to,” she said of her children, while speaking to The Post by phone from Deir al-Balah, a city in central Gaza where 80 of her relatives were sheltering in two small homes. “I had no answer to give them.”

In 2023, Aziz survived displacement, hunger, disease, bombs and being trapped under rubble.

“All I hope now is that my children will forget all this pain that has befallen their little hearts, that their coming days will be better,” she said, “and that we will psychologically overcome everything we have been through.”

Berger reported from Jerusalem. Lior Soroka and William Booth in Jerusalem, Shira Rubin in Tel Aviv, Hajar Harb in London and Toluse Olorunnipa in Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, contributed to this report.

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