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Israel says withdrawal of some troops doesn't mean the conflict in Gaza is over

A fireball from an explosion erupts during Israeli bombardment on Khan Younis from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip early on Wednesday.
AFP via Getty Images
A fireball from an explosion erupts during Israeli bombardment on Khan Younis from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip early on Wednesday.

Updated January 3, 2024 at 7:50 AM ET

TEL AVIV, Israel — As Israel begins to wind down its air-and-ground assault in northern Gaza after weeks of fighting there, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is rejecting suggestions that the pullout of some troops is part of a wider plan to end the military campaign to eliminate Hamas.

Earlier this week, Israel said it was withdrawing two brigades from Gaza, with three more brigades to be pulled out at a future date. That likely amounts to several thousand soldiers, although Israel has not disclosed how many total troops it has deployed to the Palestinian territory.

Speaking during a visit with troops in central Gaza, Gallant said that an assumption that the withdrawal from the north presaged an end to the conflict was "wrong."

In a Tuesday evening briefing, Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israel's military remains "in a very high state of readiness in all arenas."

"In Gaza, our forces are continuing to fight, especially in the Khan Yunis area," he said. "We are operating above and below ground, eliminating terrorists and continuing to destroy terrorist infrastructure."

Hagari spoke a few hours after Israel announced that a senior Hamas leader, Saleh al-Arouri, had been killed in an explosion in Beirut. Arouri, the deputy head of Hamas' Lebanon-based political bureau, was the senior-most leader of the Islamist militant group killed since the war began.

The conflict has been ongoing since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants breached the Gaza border, killing about 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostage, Israel says. Israel responded with airstrikes against Gaza, followed by a ground invasion that it says is aimed at eliminating Hamas. More than 22,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed in 12 weeks of fighting, Gaza's health ministry says.

Meanwhile, Israel says it will appear before the United Nations' International Court of Justice in the Hague to defend itself against charges of genocide in Gaza. The case was filed last week by South Africa, which has asked the court to order Israel to immediately halt its military campaign in Gaza.

Hearings are expected to begin next week.

"The state of Israel will appear before the International Court of Justice at The Hague to dispel South Africa's absurd blood libel," Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levytold an online briefing.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.