Israel troop pullback signals ‘gradual shift’ to lower intensity operations -US official

Israel troop pullback signals ‘gradual shift’ to lower intensity operations -US official

CHRISTIANSTED (Reuters): Israel’s decision to withdraw some troops from Gaza appears to signal the start of a shift to lower-intensity operations in the north of the Palestinian enclave, although there was still fighting going on there, a U.S. official said on Monday.

Israel pulled tanks out of some Gaza City districts on Monday, residents said, as it announced plans to shift tactics and cut back on troop numbers. Still, fighting raged elsewhere in the Palestinian enclave along with intense bombardment.

The White House said President Joe Biden, currently vacationing in St. Croix, and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with national security officials on Monday by secure phone about the latest developments in the Middle East.

“This appears to be the start of the gradual shift to lower-intensity operations in the north that we have been encouraging,” the official said, noting the change reflected the success of the Israeli military in dismantling Hamas’ military capabilities there.

Fighting continued in the north, however, and the revised Israeli tactics did not “reflect any changes in the south,” the official told Reuters.

Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Israel’s objectives and the phasing of its military operations in Gaza on Dec. 23, while underscoring the need to protect civilians and secure the release of hostages being held by the Hamas Islamist militant group, the White House said.

The U.S., Israel’s main ally, has kept up its support for Israel while expressing concern over the growing casualty toll and humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

U.S. officials have urged Israel to shift its military operations in Gaza to a lower-intensity phase that would include more targeted operations focused on the Hamas leadership and its infrastructure.

The Gaza war was triggered by a surprise Hamas attack on Israeli towns on Oct. 7 that Israel says killed 1,200 people. Palestinian health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza say Israel’s offensive there has killed more than 21,978 people and wounded many thousands more.

An Israeli official said the new phase of the war could last for months and would include more localized “mopping up” operations. The change will also free up military units in case of a wider conflict along in the north with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah.