Israel’s Partial Troop Withdrawal Signals Preps For Attack Linked To Iran

Israel-Hamas war: Parts of Khan Younis have been reduced to rubble by Israeli airstrikes

Military officials said on Sunday that Israel is pulling some troops out of the city of Khan Younis in Gaza, saying it had ended its mission there as the war against Hamas reached the six-month mark.

Israel said its 98th Commando Division had moved out of Khan Younis and the Gaza Strip “to recuperate and prepare for future operations.”

A significant Israel Defense Forces contingent will continue to operate in the enclave even after the troop drawdown in Khan Younis, Israel said. 

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the troops were withdrawn partly to prepare for an offensive on Rafah, the city in the far south of Gaza along the border with Egypt. The Israeli government has for weeks been saying it will attack Rafah because it houses several thousand Hamas fighters.

Most of Israel’s allies, including the US, have urged it to rethink its plans because there are more than one million civilians there. Washington is sceptical they can be moved out safely before any offensive.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Palestinians earlier displaced from Khan Younis – the second-biggest city in Gaza before the war – may now be able to return to their homes from Rafah, where they’ve been sheltering. Parts of Khan Younis have been reduced to rubble by Israeli airstrikes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel is “one step away from victory” in its war against Hamas, triggered by the attack on southern Israel by the Iran-backed group’s militants on Oct. 7.

Some 1,200 people were killed in those attacks, with around 250 taken hostage. More than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s military offensive on Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry there.

Netanyahu also said there would be “no ceasefire without the return of hostages” held in Gaza by Hamas since October. Hamas is designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union.  

Appearing Sunday on ABC’s This Week, White House spokesman John Kirby said Israel’s partial troop withdrawal seemed to be “about rest and refit” for soldiers who’ve been on the ground for months.

Still, Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and close ally of President Joe Biden, said the move looked like a tactical decision “in the face of a threat of a real attack from the north from Hezbollah or a direct attack from Iran.”

Earlier, Gallant said Israel’s military has completed preparations to respond to any scenario that may develop regarding Iran, which has vowed revenge for a suspected Israeli attack on its embassy in Syria on April 1. 

It’s unclear when that may happen or whether Iran would try to attack Israel directly or through one of its proxy groups such as Hezbollah, based in Lebanon. An Iranian official warned Sunday that Israel embassies are “no longer safe.” 

“This war revealed to the world what Israel always knew – Iran is the one behind the attack against us through its proxies,” Netanyahu said Sunday. 

“Anyone who hurts us or plans to hurt us – we will hurt him. We put this principle into practice, all the time and in recent days.”

The strike in Damascus destroyed the consulate building and killed at least 13 people, including seven Iranian military personnel and six Syrian nationals, according to Iranian state media. 

Israel didn’t confirm the attack, consistent with its usual response to accusations of targeting Iran.

Israel “will be punished. We will make them regret their crime,” Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on April 2, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

On Sunday, Yahya Rahim-Safavi, a senior military adviser to Khamanei, said on state TV that “none of Israel’s embassies are safe any more.” Multiple Israeli embassies around the Middle East have been “shut out of fear,” he added.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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