Israel ‘pulls out troops’ from southern Gaza amid negotiations with Hamas: Report

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In a major development, the Israel military said it has withdrawn its ground troops from the southern Gaza Strip, including Khan Yunis, Al Jazeera reported. “Today, Sunday, April 7th, the IDF’s 98th commando division has concluded its mission in Khan Yunis. The division left the Gaza Strip to recuperate and prepare for future operations,” the army said in a statement on Sunday.

“A significant force led by the 162nd division and the Nahal brigade continues to operate in the Gaza Strip and will preserve the IDF’s freedom of action and its ability to conduct precise intelligence-based operations,” it said. This comes as the Israeli military confirmed the report that it has withdrawn its troops from the region, but added that one brigade has remained, without giving further details. An Israeli brigade is typically made of a few thousand soldiers, Al Jazeera reported.

It was unclear whether the reported withdrawal would delay a long-threatened incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which Israeli leaders have said is needed to eliminate Hamas. Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, sought to emphasise that an operation in Rafah would take place, without giving details.

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“The forces are exiting and preparing for their next missions, we saw examples of such missions in the Al-Shifa operation, and also of their coming mission in the Rafah area,” Gallant said in a meeting with military officials, according to a statement. Meanwhile, conflicting reports continue to emerge on what happened during negotiations in Egypt between Israeli officials and a Hamas delegation, Al Jazeera reported. It reported citing a Palestinian official who told the Lebanese Al Mayadeen news network “all attempts and efforts by mediators to reach an agreement have encountered Israeli inflexibility.”

“At present, there is no progress in negotiations. If there is any, we will announce it through official channels. Hamas adheres to its demands, which include a ceasefire, Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the entry of aid, the return of displaced Gazans, and a prisoner exchange.” Israel’s offensive in Gaza, launched after the attack by Hamas on Israel six months ago on October 7, has focused in the past months on the south of the Palestinian enclave.

Rafah has become the last refuge for more than a million Palestinians sheltering in the territory near the border with Egypt. More than 250 people were seized and some 1,200 people during the October 7 attack, according to Israeli tallies. In the Israeli operation that followed, more than 33,100 Palestinians, including 13,800 children, have been killed, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, Al Jazeera reported. According to the United Nations estimates, about 1.7 million people have been forced to flee their homes and into shelters, a situation, which the the world body warned could lead to widespread famine.