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Amid US pressure, IDF shifts war on Hamas to ‘less intense phase’

The Israeli military confirmed that it had begun the transition to a campaign involving fewer ground troops and airstrikes.

Israeli forces during Gaza ground operations, Jan. 6, 2024. Credit: IDF.
Israeli forces during Gaza ground operations, Jan. 6, 2024. Credit: IDF.

The Israel Defense Forces has shifted to a new and less intense phase of its offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, giving in to repeated demands by the United States, IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari confirmed to The New York Times on Monday.

Hagari said that the Israeli offensive had already started the transition to a campaign that would involve fewer ground troops and airstrikes.

“The war shifted a stage,” the army’s chief spokesman revealed in an interview with the Grey Lady, adding that “the transition will be with no ceremony. It’s not about dramatic announcements.”

The IDF confirmation, which came on the backdrop of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the region, came a day after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant indicated Israel’s fight in Gaza would be shifting towards “different types of special operations.”

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Gallant said that the next chapter of the anti-terror operation would last “for a longer time,” stressing that Israel is not abandoning its goals of destroying Hamas, freeing the remaining 120-plus hostages, and making sure Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip are no longer subject to attack.

Parallel to Gallant’s remarks, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzl Halevi told troops this week that the war against Hamas in Gaza will last all of 2024.

“We will be at war in Gaza, I don’t know if all year—we will be fighting in Gaza all year, that’s for sure,” Halevi said on Sunday following a situational assessment with officers and commanders of the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division.

Blinken arrived in Turkey on Friday, beginning a whirlwind tour of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Over eight days, the secretary of state plans to travel to Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt.

“Throughout his trip, the secretary will underscore the importance of protecting civilian lives in Israel, and the West Bank and Gaza,” State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller stated on Friday.

In mid-December, Blinken told a press briefing that the Biden administration wants to see “a shift to more-targeted operations, with a smaller number of forces, that’s really focused-in on dealing with the leadership of Hamas, the tunnel network and a few other critical things.”

In addition, Blinken and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan sat down with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer in Washington two weeks ago to discuss “moving to another phase in the fighting aimed at targeting high-value Hamas targets,” according to the White House.

While Israeli forces in the northern Strip are completing their current mission and reorganizing, the operation in Gaza’s south is intensifying “above and below ground,” Gallant revealed on Thursday following a situational assessment on the Israeli-Gazan border.

During the past few days, the IDF’s 7th Armored Brigade has been expanding its counterterrorism operations in the Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis in the south of the coastal enclave, the military announced on Monday.

Forces fighting in the southern Strip “killed many terrorists at close range with tank shelling and airstrikes directed by the troops,” the army announced in a press release sent out on Monday afternoon.

In Khan Yunis, troops raided terrorist infrastructures located in close vicinity to residential buildings and schools, according to the IDF. During the raids, forces discovered weapons and terror equipment, in addition to recovering documents and other intelligence information.

In one school, they discovered a tunnel shaft and evidence children were being recruited by Palestinian terrorist groups, including toy Kalashnikov rifles and photos of students receiving weapons training.

Overnight Sunday, troops directed a drone to kill 10 terrorists preparing to launch rockets towards Israeli territory from Khan Yunis, the IDF said earlier on Monday. Additionally, ground forces, in tandem with the Israeli Air Force, struck around 30 “significant” terrorist targets in the city.

On Monday afternoon, air-raid sirens warned of incoming rockets in central Israel, sending more than a million people running for shelter. The Magen David Adom emergency service reported no injuries in the rocket barrage, which marked the first attack on Tel Aviv since New Year’s Eve.

Also on Monday, the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group released a propaganda video showing Israeli hostage Elad Katzir, 47, who was taken from his home in Kibbutz Nir Oz during Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks on the northwestern Negev.

A spokesperson for Nir Oz, speaking on behalf of the family, requested that the video footage of Katzir not be broadcast, and JNS has decided not to publish PIJ’s propaganda material on its website.

On Sunday night, the IDF announced that troops operating in Gaza City’s Shejaia district discovered additional proof of Islamic Jihad‘s participation in the Oct. 7 massacre alongside Hamas terrorists.

During the military operation in the northern part of Shejaia, soldiers found training plans and blueprints for the Oct. 7 attacks, numerous weapons and a book written by Adolf Hitler, the IDF said.

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