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Israel Reduces Southern Gaza Forces; Egypt To Mediate Ceasefire Talks

Israel announced on Sunday that it has withdrawn more of its soldiers from southern Gaza, leaving just a single brigade in the occupied territory as it faces growing pressure from the United States and other allies to reach a ceasefire deal with Hamas.

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The Israeli military did not provide specifics on the number of troops withdrawn or the reasons behind the move. However, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated that the remaining forces will be preparing for future operations in Gaza.

Both Israel and Hamas have now confirmed that they are sending delegations to Egypt for fresh talks on a potential ceasefire to end the six-month-long conflict. Hamas is seeking a comprehensive agreement that would bring an end to the fighting and allow for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.

In contrast, Israel has insisted that any truce must include the release of hostages held by Hamas, a demand the Islamist group has so far rejected. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also vowed not to cave to international pressure, reiterating that he will not make a deal without the hostage issue being resolved.

The latest developments come amid heightened scrutiny of Israel’s military conduct, particularly after last week’s airstrike that killed seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen charity. The incident prompted rare public criticism from the Biden administration, which has been a staunch supporter of Israel.

President Joe Biden has now explicitly stated that continued U.S. support for Israel could hinge on its willingness to improve humanitarian conditions in Gaza and work towards a ceasefire. The White House has also urged the leaders of Egypt and Qatar to pressure Hamas into agreeing to a truce and hostage deal ahead of the Cairo talks.

On the ground, some Palestinian residents of Khan Younis in southern Gaza reported seeing Israeli forces withdrawing from the city centre and retreating to eastern districts. Medics said at least 12 Palestinian bodies were found in the area following the pullback.

“It seems at the end it may be a happy Eid,” said 55-year-old Imad Joudat, who has been sheltering in a tent in Rafah with his family. “The occupation withdrew forces from Khan Younis, the Americans are pressuring after some foreigners were killed and Egypt is holding a big round with the Americans, the Israelis, Hamas and Qatar. This time we are hopeful.”

Israel’s military says the withdrawals are part of an ongoing adaptation of its tactics as the war with Hamas drags on, with General Herzi Halevi noting it will be a “long war.” However, Defense Minister Gallant made clear that the offensive will continue until Hamas no longer poses a military threat, signalling the potential for further escalation.

Looming over the ceasefire talks is also the risk of retaliation from Iran, which has vowed to strike Israel in response to the recent killing of its generals. Israel remains on high alert for any such attacks as it navigates the diplomatic pressure to reach a truce.

The fate of the over 130 hostages still being held by Hamas, as well as the broader humanitarian crisis in Gaza, will be crucial factors shaping the outcome of the latest round of Egypt-mediated negotiations. With the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday approaching, many Palestinians are cautiously optimistic that an elusive ceasefire may finally be within reach.

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