In the last six months, this was the first time Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza’s Khan Yunis. The development comes amid massive pressure from the West led by the US for a ceasefire days after several aid workers were killed in deadly Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

In a significant development six months after the commencement of war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the Israeli military on Sunday announced that it had withdrawn its forces from the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis.

Israel said it wrapped up a key phase in its ground offensive against the Hamas militant group and brought its troop presence in the territory to one of the lowest levels since the war began.

The officials said the withdrawal of troops is a part of the next plan as the army prepares to move into Hamas’ last stronghold, Rafah.

“The war in Gaza continues, and we are far from stopping,” said the military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi.

According to the local media reports, Israel was preparing to begin evacuating Rafah within one week and the process could take several months.

A “significant force” remained in Gaza to continue targeted operations including in Khan Younis, a Hamas stronghold and hometown of the group’s leader, Yehya Sinwar, said Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity under army policy.

Some videos from Khan Younis on Sunday showed some people returning to a landscape marked by shattered multistory buildings and climbing over debris to explore crumbled, dusty remains. Cars were overturned and charred. Southern Gaza’s main hospital, Nasser, was in shambles.

Israel for weeks has vowed a ground offensive in nearby Rafah. But the city shelters some 1.4 million people — more than half of Gaza’s population. 

The prospect of an offensive has raised global alarm, including from Israel’s top ally, the US, which has demanded to see a credible plan to protect civilians. Allowing people to return to nearby Khan Younis could relieve some pressure on Rafah.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby repeated on Sunday the US opposition to a Rafah offensive, adding the US believes that the partial Israeli withdrawal “is really just about rest and refit for these troops that have been on the ground for four months and not necessarily, that we can tell, indicative of some coming new operation for these troops.”

Israel’s military quietly drew down troops in devastated northern Gaza earlier in the war. 

But it has continued to carry out airstrikes and raids in areas where it says Hamas has resurfaced, including Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa, leaving what the head of the World Health Organization called “an empty shell.”

The six-month mark has been met with growing frustration in Israel, where anti-government protests have swelled and anger is mounting over what some see as government inaction to help free about 130 remaining hostages, about a quarter of whom Israel says are dead. Hamas-led militants took about 250 captives when they crossed from Gaza into Israel on Oct. 7 and killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

(India Tv)