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Israel Defense Forces end ground operation in southern Gaza as world waits to see if troops move to Rafah Crossing Point

The decision comes as Israel opens a critical port to transfer humanitarian aid to Palestinians in need and before ceasefire talks begin in Cairo

Israeli flag flying beside a decommissioned Israeli Centurion tank used during the Yom Kippur War at Tel Saki on the Golan Heights in Israel
Israeli flag flying beside a decommissioned Israeli Centurion tank used during the Yom Kippur War at Tel Saki on the Golan Heights in Israel | Shutterstock

April 7, 2024 11:10am

Updated: April 7, 2024 2:26pm

The Israel Defense Forces announced on Sunday morning that it had finished its invasion stage of the war and is now turning its focus to a possible future invasion plan of Rafah in the deep south of the Gaza Strip, according to a April 7 report published by The Jerusalem Post.

High ranking IDF officials told the Israeli newspaper the move was unrelated to pressure from the White House or the accidental killing of seven aid workers last week.

The withdrawal is also timed just two days after Tel Aviv opened the Ashdod port and Erez Crossing to start delivering humanitarian aid to Gazans.

The withdrawal will allow Palestinians to move within Khan Yunis and southern Gaza, but it will also create a potential space for Hamas to return to power in the area.

Still, the IDF is preserve control of northern and central Gaza, keeping that area as a buffer zone that is walled off from the south of the territory.

“This means Palestinians cannot move from south to north and that over two million Palestinians, more than half of whom are northern Gaza residents, remain separated from their communities, with somewhere between 150,000-300,000 Palestinians remaining in northern Gaza, who never left,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

A CNN team along the border where troops enter and leave Gaza reported it has seen “scores of tanks and armored vehicles exit,” for what the military says is to "recuperate and prepare for future operations."

The U.S. news network also reported that the withdrawal could be timed to impact upcoming talks in Egypt.

“The withdrawal — which comes on the six-month anniversary of the Hamas attacks — from the southern part of the enclave could have an impact on the ceasefire talks scheduled in Cairo Sunday, with both an Israeli and a Hamas delegation due to attend.

At one stage, Israel had as many as five divisions—an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 troops in Gaza, the Post said.

That number decreased in January after Israel took control of northern Gaza and relocated troops to its northern border to defend the Promised Land against a possible attach from Hezbollah.

While Hamas is declaring the withdrawal a particle victory, world leaders are trying to assess if Tel Aviv is contemplating an invasion of Rafah or if Hamas will try to avoid further incursions by releasing all its remaining hostages.

Rafah is the site of the Rafah Border Crossing, the only pedestrian crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

“Since the October 2023 massacre by Hamas and other militants in Israeli towns surrounding Gaza, Rafah has been the sole crossing point for people and the main crossing point for goods into and out of the Strip,” according to Gisha, a site that monitors the international crossing point.

In a comment posted on the X social media platform, United Right Party leader Gideon Sa’ar warned that a decrease in Israeli troop presence could place the hostages at risk.

“Regardless of what happens later in the war, the continuous decrease in the size of the forces and the intensity of the military pressure over the past months - has kept us far away from achieving the war goals,” the conservative leader wrote on X.

“This is directly connected to our moving away from arriving at a new hostage deal,’ he added. 

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum also released a statement, saying that the IDF has a moral obligation to rescue all the hostages:

In light of the news regarding the withdrawal of the maneuvering forces from Gaza, the Hostage and Missing Families Forum reminds us that the IDF entered Gaza after October 7 to bring about a complete victory for the State of Israel,”

The government's decision to withdraw the maneuvering forces from Gaza and switch to ongoing defense proves that the IDF was able to bring Israel many achievements and victories in the military arena and undermine Hamas' capabilities.

The Prime Minister and the War Cabinet - it's time to bring the State of Israel to absolute victory! The departure of the maneuvering forces should be the first step in the deal. Now, the hostages in Gaza must not be left behind!

In a Sunday morning report from the New York Times, the newspaper said “it was unclear what the drawdown of forces meant for the prospect of an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah…” illuminating Prime Minister Netanyahu’s vow to invade the city.

On Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel remained committed to “complete the elimination of Hamas in all of the Gaza Strip, including Rafah,” and the IDF said its forces would remain in other areas of Gaza to maintain its “freedom of action and its ability to conduct precise intelligence-based operations.”