The Israeli army says it has withdrawn its forces from Khan Yunis after months of fighting

Mohamed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

Months of fighting in Khan Yunis led to the destruction of the area.



CNN

The Israeli army said it withdrew its ground forces from… Khan Yunis, south of the Gaza Strip After months of fierce fighting.

the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) The occupation forces said on Sunday that the 98th Division had “completed its mission” in Khan Yunis. The division was leaving the Gaza Strip “to recover and prepare for future operations.”

The Israeli army added, “A large force led by the 162nd Division and the Nahal Brigade continues to operate in the Gaza Strip, and will preserve the freedom of action of the Israeli army and its ability to carry out accurate intelligence operations.”

The CNN team along the border where forces enter and leave Gaza has not witnessed the withdrawal of large numbers of troops yet, but it did witness the withdrawal of a large number of tanks from Khan Yunis overnight. They are now stationed on the borders of Gaza and Israel.

The Israeli brigade usually consists of a few thousand soldiers, but it remains unclear exactly how many Israeli forces have withdrawn from Gaza.

As of January, the 98th Division was the largest military division ever, specifically reinforced to fight Hamas in Khan Yunis.

When asked by CNN about the reasons for the withdrawal, the Israeli army refused to comment. The IDF also did not comment on whether this means there are no more troops on the ground in southern Gaza.

What is also unclear is what the withdrawal means for Israel's plans to invade Rafah, the southern part of Gaza that has become a refuge for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Israel said the incursion into Rafah was necessary to achieve its goal of eliminating Hamas in Gaza.

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Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant said Sunday that forces would leave Gaza to prepare for follow-on missions, including in the Rafah area.

“Forces go out and prepare before their follow-up missions. We have seen examples of such missions while working in Shifa. And also for their mission in the Rafah area,” Gallant said in his remarks during his visit to the army’s Southern Command.

Gallant said: “We have reached a situation in which Hamas does not control the Gaza Strip, and does not operate as a military framework that poses a threat to the citizens of the State of Israel,” noting that he completed an assessment of the situation by the Southern Command of the Israeli army during the withdrawal of its forces from Khan Yunis.

The Defense Minister added that Israeli forces in Khan Yunis succeeded in destroying “hostile targets, underground warehouses and weapons.” [infrastructure]headquarters [and] Communications rooms.”

Israel's public broadcaster and CNN affiliate Channel 11 reported on Sunday that the remaining forces would be stationed along the so-called Netzarim Corridor, the road that divides the Gaza Strip into two parts. Named after the former Israeli settlement of Netzarim in Gaza, the corridor intersects with one of Gaza's two main north-south roads, Salah al-Din Street, to create a strategic central intersection.

Before the withdrawal, the Israeli military said on Sunday that commando units raided and searched more than a hundred sites in the Al-Amal neighborhood of Khan Yunis, where they found a long tunnel and “eliminated the terrorists.” CNN cannot independently verify these claims.

Speaking on ABC's The Week, White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby said the move was unlikely to be a sign of some new operation to come, but rather a “relief and renewal.”

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“They have been on the ground for four months. The word we are getting is that they are tired, and need to be replenished.”

The United States is Israel's main ally, but it is pressuring the country to do more to protect civilians and allow aid to enter.

On a call this week Between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden asked Netanyahu to take steps to address the crisis or face the consequences.

Mohamed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

People walk in front of damaged and destroyed buildings in Khan Yunis on April 7, after Israel withdrew its ground forces from the area.

Mohamed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

International pressure on Israel is mounting, with its close ally calling on the United States to do more to protect civilians.

The Israeli military began its campaign against Hamas in northern Gaza shortly after the October 7 attacks that killed about 1,200 people. Early in the war, the Israeli military identified Khan Yunis as a safer area and asked residents from northern Gaza to seek shelter there.

But as the Israeli army's focus increasingly shifted south, the city became a battlefield.

On December 1, the Israeli army launched a large-scale airstrike on Khan Yunis, dropping leaflets on the city calling on residents to evacuate immediately.

Since then, the area has turned into a site of intense fighting, leaving the area devastated. During its visit to the accident site earlier in the year, CNN found buildings completely destroyed or beyond repair.

The Israeli military says the city is a Hamas stronghold, adding that the network of tunnels beneath civilian buildings in the city is likely where Hamas planned the October 7 attacks. The city is the birthplace of the leader of the Hamas movement in Gaza. Yahya Al-Sanwar.

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Hamas has denied hiding in hospitals and other civilian buildings, and CNN has been unable to independently verify either claim.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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