Israeli military reduces troops in southern Gaza

The Israeli military has withdrawn more ground troops from the southern Gaza Strip, leaving just one brigade there six months after the start of its offensive, a spokesperson for the force said.

The military, which has been reducing numbers in Gaza since the start of the year to relieve reservists and under growing pressure from its ally Washington to improve the humanitarian situation, did not give details on its reasons or the number of soldiers involved.

The move comes as Egypt prepares to host a new round of talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire and hostage release deal.

It was unclear whether the withdrawal would delay a long-threatened incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which Israeli leaders have said is needed to eliminate the Islamist Hamas movement ruling the Palestinian enclave.

Palestinian residents of the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, which has come under Israeli bombardment in recent months, said they had seen Israeli forces leaving the centre of the city and retreating to the eastern districts.

A file photo of a camp in Rafah
More than a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering in the Gaza city of Rafah.

Israel's offensive, launched after the shock attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, has focused in the past months on the south of the Gaza Strip.

More than 250 hostages were seized and some 1200 people killed during the October 7 attack, according to Israeli tallies. 

More than 33,100 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli offensive, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

Rafah has become the last refuge for more than a million Palestinians sheltering in the territory near the border with Egypt.

Six months of combat in Gaza has strained the Israeli military and the country's economy. Many Israeli security experts say they now see a greater threat from Iran-back Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel is also on alert for a possible retaliatory attack from Iran in reaction to the killing of Iranian generals on April 1.

Israel's overall Gaza troop drawdown comes amid increased pressure from the US, where President Joe Biden has demanded that Israel improve humanitarian conditions in Gaza and work towards a ceasefire, saying that United States support could be hinged on it.

That was the first time Biden, a staunch supporter of Israel, has sought to leverage US aid as a way to influence Israeli military behaviour.

Biden has also urged the leaders of Egypt and Qatar to pressure Hamas to agree to a ceasefire and hostage deal ahead of a fresh round of talks in Cairo.

More than 130 hostages are still in captivity in Gaza, and Israel says it will not stop its offensive until they are all returned.

There was no confirmation from Israel that it would send a delegation to the Cairo negotiations. 

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