Tel Aviv — Israel’s military has begun moving thousands of troops out of the Gaza Strip, but officials stress that the Israel Defense Forces are set to continue waging a long war against the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The announcement of a redeployment came after Israel’s prime ministerwell into the new year.
Thousands of Israeli soldiers were being shifted out of Gaza, however, military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters on Monday, in the first significant drawdown since the war was sparked by Hamas’ unprecedented Oct. 7 terror attack on southern Israel. In a statement, the IDF said five brigades, or several thousand troops, would be moved out of Gaza over the coming weeks for training and rest.
In a briefing Sunday when he first announced the troop withdrawal, without specifying how many forces were leaving, Hagari did not say whether the decision meant Israel was launching a new phase of the war.
Israel has vowed to crush Hamas’ military and governing capabilities in Gaza, a small Palestinian territory which the group — long designated a terror organization by Israel and the U.S. — has ruled for almost two decades.
Hamas’ attack on Israel left about 1,200 people dead and saw the militants take some 240 people hostage.
The troop movement could indicate a scaling back of Israel’s war effort in some parts of densely populated Gaza, most likely in the northern half of the enclave where the IDF focused the initial phase of its offensive.
Israel, a close U.S. ally in the heart of the tumultuous Middle East, has been under mounting pressure from the Biden administration to switch to lower-intensity fighting amid escalating death toll reports from Gaza, where Hamas officials say more than 20,000 people have been killed.
But Hagari made it clear that Israel’s war with Hamas was not yet over.
“The objectives of the war require prolonged fighting, and we are preparing accordingly,” he said.
Nor is it over for Hamas, and as the clock struck midnight local time, it was sirens that rang in the new year across Israel on Monday morning.
Hamas fired a barrage of rockets, lighting up the sky for revelers in Tel Aviv as Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted most of them. No injuries were reported.
In Gaza, there was no happy new year. Thousands of Palestinians have spent weeks crammed into tents in the southern city of Rafah, huddling close to stay warm. Many in the camps lost a mother, father, husband, wife, brother, sister, child or grandchild in 2023, and they fear the new year will only bring more of the same.
“My tragedy lives inside me,” said Kamal al-Zeinaty, one of the many displaced. “The outside world does not feel it at all. Let them have their celebrations and leave me to live in tragedy.”