Israeli troops withdraw from Khan Younis ahead of expected Rafah offensive

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Palestinians walk through the destruction left by the Israeli air and ground offensive after they withdrew from Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Sunday, April 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Ismael Abu Dayyah)

Israel’s military says it has withdrawn its forces from the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, wrapping up a key phase in its ground offensive against the Hamas militant group and bringing its troop presence in the territory to one of the lowest levels since the six-month war began.

But defense officials said Sunday that troops were merely regrouping as the army prepares to move into Hamas’ last stronghold, Rafah.

Israel for weeks has vowed a ground offensive in nearby Rafah. But the city shelters some 1.4 million people — more than half of Gaza’s population. The prospect of an offensive has raised global alarm, including from Israel’s top ally, the U.S., which has demanded to see a credible plan to protect civilians.

Still, the withdrawal was a milestone as Israel and Hamas marked six months of fighting. Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity under army policy, said a “significant force” remained in Gaza to continue targeted operations including in Khan Younis, hometown of the Hamas leader, Yehya Sinwar.

The Palestinian death toll from the war has passed 33,000, with another 75,600 people wounded, Gaza’s Health Ministry said. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its tally, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

The war began Oct. 7 when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 people hostage.

  • The Associated Press, Agencies
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