Israel to recall thousands of troops from Gaza as army warns of prolonged fighting

Tanks withdrawing from neighbourhoods in Gaza city, residents say

Israeli soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip. AFP / Handout / Israeli army
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Several thousand Israeli troops will withdraw from Gaza in the coming weeks for “rest and training”, the army confirmed on Monday, in the first drawdown since the war began almost four months ago.

Five brigades on the ground in Gaza will be returned to Israel, the army said in a statement following the initial announcement at the weekend. The decision was cited as “smart management” of the war by officials.

“The objectives of the war require prolonged fighting and we are preparing accordingly,” military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters on Sunday.

The Israeli military “must plan ahead, understanding that we will be required for additional tasks and warfare throughout this year”, he added.

It comes as top officials including Israeli President Isaac Herzog warned the war is likely to continue for several more months.

Almost 22,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the war began on October 7, when militant group Hamas killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern Israel and took 240 people hostage.

The staggering death toll is the highest loss of Palestinian lives since the Nakba in 1948, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said at the weekend.

Israeli reservists from at least two brigades are expected to leave this week, according to reports.

Residents in northern Gaza have reported tanks withdrawing from the Sheikh Radwan, Al Mina and Tel Hawa districts of Gaza city, according to Reuters.

"This appears to be the start of the gradual shift to lower intensity operations in the north that we have been encouraging," a US official told Reuters.

The official said the withdrawal reflected the Israeli military's success in dismantling Hamas military capabilities in the north of the coastal strip but cautioned that "there is still fighting in the north and this does not reflect any changes in the south".

The army has said the pullback will allow troops to return to civilian life and free up brigades in the event of escalation on the northern border, where conflict with Lebanon's Hezbollah group has resulted in daily clashes.

Troops returning to their families and jobs in Israel “will significantly ease the burden on the economy and allow them to gather strength for the upcoming activities in the next year, as the fighting will continue and they will still be required”, Admiral Hagari said.

Israel has rebuffed widespread calls for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza, vowing to completely eradicate Hamas.

Its strategy has been criticised by relatives of hostages still held in the enclave, as well as the UN and human rights groups, who have warned of famine and widespread disease among Gaza's displaced.

More than 170 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the ground operation began on October 28.

Updated: January 01, 2024, 5:22 PM