newsIsrael at War

As Gaza ground op advances, some Israelis to return to border homes

Israeli evacuees, who live between 2.5 and 4.4 miles from the Gaza border, to be allowed to return to towns devastated by Hamas on Oct. 7.

Israeli troops operating in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Dec. 31, 2023. Credit: IDF.
Israeli troops operating in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Dec. 31, 2023. Credit: IDF.

The Israel Defense Forces expressed cautious optimism on Sunday evening in the wake of a decrease in the number of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, as Jerusalem is reportedly preparing to allow some residents of the country’s southwestern region to return home.

The sharp drop in rocket attacks is a direct result of the IDF ground maneuver in Gaza, during which forces have destroyed many launch pads, the military added.

According to IDF data, in the first week of December, after Hamas violated the hostages-for-ceasefire deal, 75 rockets were launched at Israel on average per day. Last week, that number dropped to 14.

The figure does not include mortars launched at ground troops operating inside the coastal enclave, rockets falling into the Mediterranean and failed rocket launches.

According to Israel’s Kan News public broadcaster, the IDF has initiated an “orderly process” to allow Israeli evacuees, who live between four and seven kilometers (2.5-4.4 miles) from the Gaza border, to voluntarily return to their homes.

“We continue to deal with the [terror] tunnels and damage the rocket array in order to continue the reduction in rocket fire,” IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said during a press conference on Sunday evening, adding: “The war’s goals require prolonged fighting; we are preparing accordingly.”

In the Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis, in southern Gaza, IDF forces on Sunday killed several terrorists from Hamas’s elite Nukhba force, Hagari noted, including some who took part in the Oct. 7 massacre in southwestern Israel. During the exchange of fire, a number of Nukhba terrorists surrendered.

In addition, soldiers of the Maglan reconnaissance unit raided a school building from which shots were fired at forces, the IDF said. During a search, troops discovered rocket launchers, terror equipment and Hamas documents.

During other searches carried out throughout the Khan Yunis area, IDF soldiers, acting on precise intelligence information, located large numbers of weapons, including one instance where grenades and other ammunition were found in the bedroom wardrobe of a residential home.

“The soldiers operate in cooperation with armored forces, the Engineering Corps and the Air Force to eliminate terrorists in face-to-face confrontations,” added the military.

The IDF on Sunday afternoon also shared video footage of Marom Brigade and Oketz K9 units operating in Gaza City’s Jabalia and Rimal neighborhoods, located in the northern part of the Strip.

The IDF said that canines were used “in a large number of cases” before IDF forces raided terrorist infrastructures. The dogs identified various types of threats, preventing injuries to soldiers. In addition, they mapped houses and located weaponry.

During operational activity in Rimal, an Oketz dog, named Toy, detected a Hamas gunman lying in wait. The dog neutralized the terrorist, preventing the Israeli soldiers from being ambushed.

The IDF announced on Sunday night that it is seeking to release a substantial number of soldiers from reserve duty, with two entire brigades set to return home later this week. Earlier this month, Division 252 was temporarily released, having completed its mission in northern Gaza.

“We will release forces because it is the right thing to do. People need to go home—especially the reservists,” Hagari said. “There’s a high probability we may need them again. That’s why we need a refresh.”

The army believes the war against Hamas will continue throughout 2024 and says it is prepared for lengthy hostilities, according to local media reports on Sunday night.

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