Withdrawal of some Israeli troops from Gaza generates new divisions in Netanyahu government

(CNN) — A far-right Israeli government minister has criticized the country’s military’s decision to withdraw an army division from Gaza, highlighting new divisions among lawmakers over a military offensive in the Palestinian territory.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said the “barrage of rockets” fired from Gaza toward Israel on Tuesday morning once again demonstrated that the capture of Gaza is essential to achieving the objectives of the war.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said on Monday that the 36th Division, which includes armoured, engineering and infantry companies, is withdrawing from Gaza after 80 days, in the most significant sign yet of the transition to a new phase of the war, known as Some Israeli officials have told. Are promising.

A growing chorus of leaders condemned the spate of deaths in Gaza, where a deadly Israeli military offensive since October 7 has destroyed several areas and left more than 2.2 million people facing famine, deadly diseases and forced displacement.

According to the Hamas-run health ministry, Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed at least 24,100 Palestinians and injured 60,834 others. CNN cannot independently verify the figures due to the difficulty of reporting from a war zone.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant, pictured in Tel Aviv on 18 December, announced the withdrawal of some troops from Gaza on 15 January. This was the most significant signal yet of a new phase of Israeli military aggression. (Credit: Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters)

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant said this Monday that the “intense maneuver phase” of the Israeli military offensive in northern and southern Gaza “will soon end.”

Israeli forces are working to “eliminate areas of resistance” in northern Gaza, Gallant said: “We will achieve this through raids, airstrikes, special operations and additional activities.”

Following the October 7 attacks, Gallant said that the original plan was for an “intense maneuver phase” of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza to last approximately three months. But he warned that the Israeli military adapts its operations to “the realities on the ground” and “according to our intelligence.”

An IDF spokesperson told CNN that the 36th Division had withdrawn from Gaza “for a period of refreshment and training”, adding that the division’s future movements had not yet been decided.

“At the end of the period, and as per the assessment of the situation, a decision will be taken on continuing the operational activity of the division forces as per the operational requirement,” the spokesperson said.

According to the spokesman, the withdrawal means that three IDF combat divisions now remain in Gaza, along with special forces.

Among the units still on the ground in Gaza is the 98th Division, which operates in central Gaza and is the largest division created in the history of the IDF. The IDF does not comment on the number of its troops in Gaza, but each division consists of several brigades that may each contain thousands of soldiers.

Split in Netanyahu’s cabinet

Ben Gvir’s comments highlight tensions within the Israeli government, and within the defense and security establishment in general, over the extent of Israel’s presence in Gaza after the war.

Earlier this month, Israeli cabinet members discussed plans for Gaza’s future after the war and how to handle the investigation into security failures surrounding the October 7 Hamas attacks.

Following the public controversy on 4 January, a source described it as a “controversy” at a security cabinet meeting. Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said that a “stormy discussion” had taken place, while former Defense Minister Benny Gantz claimed that a “politically motivated attack” had been launched.

The security cabinet division was concerned about how to handle the investigation of the 7 October attack on Israel, including the Israeli military’s inability to anticipate it, as well as how to deal with further conflict.

If the government falls, Israel will likely face new elections in which Netanyahu will lose.

benjamin netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu photographed in Jerusalem on September 27. Disagreements among lawmakers in Netanyahu’s cabinet over proposed post-war plans for Gaza have recently come to the fore. (Credit: Abeer Sultan/AFP/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, some far-right politicians advocate complete occupation of Gaza and the possible return of Jewish settlements. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under pressure from the United States to guarantee a leading role for the Palestinian Authority, recently declared that Israel “has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza.”

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has forcibly displaced at least 1.93 million people, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East. Thousands of families have been displaced at times as Israeli attacks spread into new areas.

Regional actors in the Middle East have repeatedly compared the mass displacement of Palestinians in Gaza to the “Nakba” or catastrophe, an Arabic term for the expulsion or exodus of Palestinians from their cities during Israel’s establishment in 1948. .

—CNN’s Richard Alan Greene, Niamh Kennedy and Lauren Izzo contributed to this report.

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