Israel says it is moving to a more specific stage in the Gaza war | ET REALITY

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Israel said its military is beginning to shift from a large-scale ground and air campaign in the Gaza Strip to a more targeted phase in its war against Hamas, and Israeli officials have privately told their U.S. counterparts that they expected the transition will be completed by the end of January, US officials said.

Israel’s revelation came as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was expected to be in Israel pressing officials there to scale back their campaign in Gaza and prevent the war from spreading to the region, particularly after an Israeli attack. last week who killed senior Hamas officials. leaders in Lebanon and, as Hezbollah said, one of its commanders was killed in an attack in the country.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, said the new phase of the campaign involved fewer troops and airstrikes. U.S. officials said they expected the transition to rely more on surgical missions conducted by smaller groups of elite Israeli forces that would move in and out of population centers in the Gaza Strip to find and kill Hamas leaders, rescue hostages and destroy tunnels.

“The war changed a stage,” Admiral Hagari said Monday in an interview. “But the transition will be unceremonious,” he added. “These are not dramatic announcements.”

He said Israel would continue to reduce the number of troops in Gaza, a process that began this month. The intensity of operations in northern Gaza has already begun to decline, he added, as the army shifts to conducting one-off raids there rather than holding large-scale maneuvers.

Israel will now focus on Hamas’s central and southern strongholds, particularly around Khan Younis and Deir al Balah, Admiral Hagari said, adding that he expected more aid and tents to enter Gaza.

US officials say they believe the number of Israeli troops in the northern part of Gaza has been reduced to less than half of the around 50,000 troops who had been present last month during the height of the campaign. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.

Still, Israeli officials have made clear to U.S. officials that while they hope to complete the transition by the end of the month, the timeline is not set. If Israeli forces encounter stiffer-than-expected Hamas resistance, or discover threats they did not anticipate, the size and pace of the withdrawal could slow and intensive airstrikes could continue, they said.

President Biden has strongly supported Israel’s war in Gaza, in which the Israeli army, armed with American weapons, has killed about 23,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

But Biden has been under international pressure, and from within his own administration, to curb Israel’s campaign, launched after the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in southern Israel, which killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostages.

Biden told aides last month that he wanted Israelis to make the transition around Jan. 1. The Israelis presented the Americans with their own transition schedule. Hearing this, Biden’s aides urged the Israelis to act more quickly.

Now that the transition is underway, there is a growing sense of urgency among Israeli and American officials to come up with plans to restore and maintain law and order in the Gaza Strip as Israeli troops accelerate their withdrawal.

Israeli officials have told their American counterparts that they envision a loose network of local mayors, security officials and leaders of prominent Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip who will intervene to provide basic security in the short term in the areas where they live. These local leaders, according to Israeli officials, could oversee the distribution of humanitarian aid and enforce daily order.

Although many of these local leaders will likely have some ties to Hamas, which took control of the territory in 2007, Israeli officials see the district-by-district approach, in conjunction with aid groups on the ground, as their best option to allow for the distribution of humanitarian aid and to provide a measure of security to civilians.

Israeli officials have floated a wide range of other ideas. Some of them have held out hope that Arab states will agree to send a peacekeeping force. Others have promoted the idea of ​​a multinational force led by the United States, but with Israeli supervision of strip security. But American officials say their Israeli counterparts have not formally asked them to move forward with the idea of ​​an international force because they know it is unlikely to happen.

Israel’s plans have generally lacked details, amid public disagreement among members of the government over how much control Israel should retain over Gaza after the war. Some have called for Israeli civilians to relocate to the territory, while others, such as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, have ruled out an Israeli civilian presence.

To provide security in the Gaza Strip in the medium and long term, US officials have proposed retraining members of the Palestinian Authority security forces. US officials said they believed there are at least 6,000 members of these forces in the Gaza Strip, but retraining them will take many months and it is unclear whether Israel will accept their deployment or how they will be received by the local population.

The Biden administration has called for a “renewed and revitalized” Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza after the war, seeing it as a path toward a two-state solution that would create a Palestinian state made up of Gaza and the West Bank, a proposal that many right-wing Israelis oppose. they oppose. Until now, Israeli leaders have all but dismissed the idea of ​​the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority administering the Gaza Strip, with many Palestinians seeing it as corrupt and an extension of Israel.

The Palestinian Authority has said it will help with post-war governance only if it is part of a broader process toward creating a Palestinian state.

On January 1, the Israeli military announced that it would begin withdrawing several thousand troops from the Gaza Strip, at least temporarily. Israeli officials privately told their American counterparts that this was the beginning of the transition.

Blinken has visited half a dozen countries in the region since landing in Turkey on Friday and has spoken to the leaders of each about how they could help in a post-war Gaza. He hopes to speak with Israeli leaders about the escalation of the war and how the strip might work in the coming months, a State Department official said during the trip.

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