Israel will “intensify and continue” its military operation in the southern Gaza Strip until the Hamas leadership is found and the more than 120 hostages still held by the terrorist group are returned to the Jewish state, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
During their meeting held at the Kirya military headquarters, Gallant also briefed the American diplomat on “changes in combat tactics in the northern area of the Gaza Strip,” according to a Defense Ministry statement.
“An important meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken,” Gallant wrote in a post on X following the tête-à-tête.
“We are determined to complete the war goals and strengthen regional stability in the Middle East by dismantling Hamas in the south and changing the security situation in the north,” he added, the latter a reference to the ongoing attacks by Iranian-backed Hezbollah from Lebanon.
‘The need to plan ahead’
Earlier this week, Hebrew media reported that Jerusalem knows the exact Gaza location of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, who masterminded the Oct. 7 massacre of some 1,200 people in the northwestern Negev. Sinwar is believed to be hiding in the southern Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis.
However, the terror mastermind has surrounded himself with a large number of living hostages, preventing the IDF from carrying out an airstrike on him, reports said.
The Washington Post on Tuesday cited an anonymous senior U.S. official as saying that Israel has already withdrawn several thousand troops from northern Gaza in “a significant drawdown” from the coastal enclave.
In a statement shared with JNS, the IDF confirmed that it was “currently adjusting deployment plans for forces in Gaza and the reserve system.
“These adaptations aim to ensure effective planning and preparation for the continuation of operations in 2024. The IDF recognizes the need to plan ahead, anticipating additional tasks and warfare throughout the year,” added the army statement.
Some reservists, including the 551st Reserve Paratrooper Brigade and the 14th Reserve Armored Brigade, will be released from military service this week. In addition, the 828th, 261st and 460th brigades will return to their scheduled training as part of the adjustment in deployment plans.
Forces operating in the Khan Yunis area continue to kill armed terrorists, expose weapon depots and destroy terrorist infrastructure, the IDF said on Tuesday afternoon.
During a raid on the Hamas-controlled Islamic University of Gaza, troops found numerous Kalashnikov assault rifles, ammunition and other terror equipment in classrooms, as well as safes containing terrorist funds.
In the area surrounding the university, soldiers discovered dozens of weapons depots containing more than 100 mortar bombs, explosive devices, grenades and maps used by Hamas operatives.
“Even in a place where the younger generation is supposed to be educated, the whole place is loaded with Kalashnikovs and Hamas videos,” an officer of the Givati Infantry Brigade said in a video shared by the IDF, adding that soldiers also encountered terrorists in the building.
On Monday, the IDF announced that Israeli forces found the largest weapons manufacturing site discovered since the start of the war, containing rockets capable of reaching north of Tel Aviv.
The weapons plant was part of a massive tunnel system nearly 100 feet underneath the Al-Bureij camp in central Gaza, according to the IDF. The rockets produced in the facility had a range of more than 60 miles.
After almost 24 hours of quiet in southern Israel, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza resumed rocket fire at the border region on Tuesday, setting off air-raid sirens throughout the day in Sderot, Kibbutz Nir Am, Kibbutz Nahal Oz, Kibbutz Alumim and the village of Ibim, said Army Radio.
Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that displaced residents of Sderot, Ibim and other communities located east of Route 232 will be allowed to return to their homes on Feb. 4.