Israel has faced mounting pressure from its primary ally, the United States, to transition to a less intense conflict with fewer civilian casualties. In a significant move, the Israeli military has announced the withdrawal of several thousand troops from the besieged Gaza Strip, marking the first substantial reduction in forces since the conflict began in October.
However, despite this withdrawal, fierce fighting continues in the southern city of Khan Younis. Israel remains committed to pursuing its objectives in the conflict, which include the destruction of the Palestinian group Hamas. According to Israeli officials, Hamas was responsible for around 1,140 casualties in attacks on southern Israel on October 7.
The decision to withdraw troops was confirmed by the military on Monday, with five brigades, comprising several thousand soldiers, being pulled out for training and rest. While the statement did not specify whether this indicated a shift in the war’s phase, army spokesperson Daniel Hagari emphasized the need for prolonged fighting to achieve the war’s objectives.
Retired brigadier general Shlomo Brom, formerly in charge of strategic planning in the Israeli military, suggested that the troop changes could be influenced by U.S. pressure, potentially signaling a shift in Israel’s war strategy.
Israel had outlined a three-stage approach to the conflict, involving intense shelling, a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, and subsequent control and operations. With significant territorial gains made, the military is now reportedly transitioning to the third stage.
In a separate development, the U.S. announced on Monday that it would replace an aircraft carrier strike group in the eastern Mediterranean with an amphibious assault ship and accompanying warships.
Meanwhile, Palestinian health authorities report that at least 21,978 people have been killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza since October 7. The Israeli military acknowledged the loss of at least 172 soldiers during the ground operation, including casualties from friendly fire and equipment malfunctions.
The conflict has also seen cross-border engagements between the Israeli military and the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah. On Monday, Hezbollah reported the deaths of three fighters in southern Lebanon, stating that they were “martyred on the road to [liberate] Jerusalem.” The Israeli military confirmed hitting targets in Lebanon, including sites where Hezbollah operated. According to sources, over 100 Hezbollah fighters and nearly two dozen civilians, including children and the elderly, have lost their lives.