Israel Withdraws a Division of Troops From Southern Gaza

The Israeli military said it withdrew a division of ground troops from southern Gaza on Sunday, raising questions about its plans as the war reached its six month mark.

The army said that the 98th Division had left Khan Younis in southern Gaza in order “to recuperate and prepare for future operations.” Israeli news media reported that the withdrawal of the 98th meant there were no Israeli troops actively maneuvering in southern Gaza.

It was unclear what the drawdown of forces meant for the prospect of an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to invade the city, despite warnings from the Biden administration that a ground invasion would be catastrophic for the more than one million Gazans sheltering there.

A man stands in the midst of devastation in Khan Yunis on Sunday, after Israel pulled its ground forces out of the southern Gaza Strip.Credit…Mohammed Abed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu said that Israel was determined to “complete the elimination of Hamas in all of the Gaza Strip, including Rafah.”

The army said that its forces would remain in other parts of Gaza to preserve its “freedom of action and its ability to conduct precise intelligence-based operations.”

Osama Asfour, 41, a resident of Khan Younis who is sheltering in a tent in Rafah, said the army’s announcement did not make him want to return to his city anytime soon.

“The military might say it left today, but they can come back tomorrow,” Mr. Asfour, who had worked at the 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.”

Another issue, Mr. Asfour said, was that his home had been destroyed.

The departure of the 98th came about four months after Israeli forces invaded southern Gaza. Since the start of the war, the army has returned to areas of Gaza that its forces had previously left, especially in the north. Military officials have said that Hamas has tried to re-establish itself in parts of the north in the wake of Israel’s withdrawals.

Last week, the military pulled back from Al-Shifa Hospital in the north after a two-week-long operation. It had first raided the hospital in November. This time the troops left behind what appeared to be a wasteland following extended gun battles with Palestinian militants in and around the complex.

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