Gallant: Intense combat ends in northern Gaza, south to follow ‘soon’

The military’s largest regular-service armored division exited the Gaza Strip for rest and training.

By Akiva Van Koningsveld | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas
Israeli forces during Gaza ground operations, Jan. 14, 2024. Credit: IDF.
Israeli forces during Gaza ground operations, Jan. 14, 2024. Credit: IDF.

Eighty days after the Israel Defense Forces launched its ground offensive against Hamas, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced an official end to heavy combat operations in the northern Gaza Strip.

“The intensive maneuvering phase in the north of the Gaza Strip has ended, and in the south, it will also end soon,” Gallant said on Monday evening in a statement cited by Hebrew media.

“Some three months ago … we specified the stages of implementation and made it clear that the intensive maneuvering phase will last for approximately three months—in the north of the Gaza Strip, this phase has concluded,” added the defense minister.

According to Gallant, “In the south of the Gaza Strip, we will reach this achievement soon, and in both places, the moment will come when we move to the next phase.”

Earlier on Monday, the military’s largest regular-service armored division exited Gaza for rest and training, leaving three other divisions fighting Hamas.

Soldiers of the 36th Armored Division, which includes the Golani Infantry Brigade, and the 7th and 188th armored brigades, concluded their mission in Gaza on Monday with a ceremony near the border that included a flyover by Israeli Air Force helicopters.

“Golani Brigade, you are lions; you are the fighters of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. We are grateful for the privilege to have fought with you and alongside you from both above and below; we will always be with you,” IAF pilots told troops leaving the Strip.

‘Adjusting deployment plans for forces’

The division’s units will be given a brief break from their army service before they return for a period of training, after which the IDF will decide if and where to redeploy them based on operational needs.

Three armored divisions now remain in the Gaza Strip, in addition to special forces. The 162nd Division operates in northern Gaza, the 99th Division remains in the central part of the Strip, and the 98th Division is fighting in the southern Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis.

Last week, Gallant told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Jerusalem would “intensify and continue” its military operation in the south until the Hamas leadership is found and the hostages held by the terrorist group are returned to the Jewish state.

At the same time, The Washington Post cited a senior US official as saying Israel has already withdrawn several thousand troops from northern Gaza, in “a significant drawdown” from the coastal enclave.

In a statement shared with JNS on Tuesday, the IDF said that it was “adjusting deployment plans for forces in Gaza and the reserve system.”

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant at a joint press conference with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in Jerusalem, on Dec. 26, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

“These adaptations aim to ensure effective planning and preparation for the continuation of operations in 2024. The IDF recognizes the need to plan ahead, anticipating additional tasks and warfare throughout the year,” added the army statement.

Speaking to CBS on Sunday, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Washington has been urging Israel to “transition to low-intensity operations” in the war against Hamas terror.

While acknowledging that Israel has taken “precursory steps” towards scaling back its offensive, the White House believes the time is coming “very soon for a transition to this lower-intensity phase,” Kirby said.

Israel’s counterterror operations have in recent weeks focused heavily on Khan Yunis, where Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar is presumed to be in hiding behind hostages taken during the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 invasion of the northwestern Negev.

Meanwhile, during a raid in the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza, troops of the IDF’s 646th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade encountered eight Hamas terrorists hiding in a school building, the military announced on Monday. The terrorists were detained and taken for interrogation in Israel.

Soldiers also found a weapons depot containing large amounts of ammunition near the school. In another raid in Nuseirat, IDF troops discovered factories for producing rockets and mortar bombs, as well as weapons hidden in a building belonging to a humanitarian organization.