Israel is withdrawing some forces from Gaza to shift to more targeted operations against Hamas and partially returning to civilian life to help the economy as the country enters a new year for a protracted war, an Israeli official said.
The official said the war in the Palestinian territories will continue until the Islamic State is defeated, adding that some of the withdrawn troops will prepare for a second front in Lebanon.
Since launching the Gaza offensive after a cross-border Hamas attack on October 7, Israeli officials have said they plan to conduct it in three main phases. The first is intensive shelling to clear access routes for ground forces and evacuate civilians. The second is the invasion that started on Oct. 27.
With tanks and troops now occupying much of the Gaza Strip, the army is moving into the third phase of the war as Palestinian gunmen sneak out of hidden tunnels and bunkers and continue to consolidate their control, the official, who could not be identified, said. A name given to the sensitivity of the issue.
„It will take at least six months and will involve intensive mopping-up operations against terrorists. No one is talking about peace doves being flown from Shahjaya,” the official told Reuters.
In addition to the 1,200 killed on October 7, Hamas took about 240 hostages. Israel is also determined to rescue 129 more people in Gaza. Efforts to broker a ceasefire by Qatar and Egypt have raised the prospect of some of them being released.
Israel drafted 300,000 reservists for the war – an estimated 10% to 15% of its workforce. Some were quickly discharged, but government sources said 200,000 to 250,000 were still working and had not returned from jobs or universities.
The official said the withdrawal was aimed at reservists and was designed to „re-invigorate the Israeli economy”.
But the official said some troops evacuated from Gaza in the south were ready to rotate to the northern border with Lebanon, whose Hezbollah operatives have been exchanging fire with Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians.
Israel has warned that if Hezbollah does not back down, Lebanon will go to war. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran, whose allies Syria, Iraq and Yemen have also been conducting long-range attacks against Israel.
„The situation on the Lebanon front will not be allowed to continue. The next six months are a critical moment,” the official said, adding that Israel would convey a similar message to the US ambassador, who runs shuttle trips to Beirut.
In Gaza, the Israel-Hamas war has wreaked unprecedented havoc, with the health ministry reporting nearly 22,000 deaths, many of them civilians. Israel claims to have killed more than 8,000 Palestinian fighters – while Hamas retains key personnel, according to its own account. Pre-war Israeli estimates put the group at about 30,000 fighters.
The Israeli military announced on Saturday that it would send some reservists home as part of what top commander Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi deemed a „restructuring” of forces.
„From the first moments of this war, we said it was going to take a long time,” Halevi told troops on Tuesday. „Can we finally say that there are no enemies around the State of Israel? I think that's too ambitious. But we will provide a different security situation – secure and, as much as possible, stable.”
Israel lists 174 soldiers – many of them killed in the Gaza fighting and nine on the Lebanese border.
(Other than the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)
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