Israel withdraws its 98th Commando division from Gaza as Cairo talks are due to begin!

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SIX months into Israel’s criminal war on Gaza, Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters have been engaged in intense combat around the city of Khan Younis with Hamas claiming it killed 14 Israeli soldiers during ambushes there.

The Israeli military announced yesterday that it has reduced its ground troops in the southern Gaza Strip following the ‘conclusion’ of its months long operation in the city of Khan Younis. In the Sunday statement, the IDF said it was pulling its 98th commando division ‘to recuperate and prepare for future operations’.

The Nahal brigade and the 162nd division remain in Gaza, which the IDF described as ‘a significant force’ that will continue to ‘operate in the Gaza Strip, and will preserve the IDF’s freedom of action and its ability to conduct precise intelligence based operations’.

The IDF reported that four Israeli soldiers were killed in southern Gaza on Saturday. It was not yet clear if the withdrawal constituted a planned rotation of the troops, or signalled a turning point in Israel’s strategy for its military offensive in Gaza.

Also unclear is where this leaves Israel’s plans for a ground offensive in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, where as many as a million Gazans are sheltering.

A ground offensive in Rafah has become an increasingly contentious point within the US, Israel’s strongest ally, with President Biden suggesting last month that the offensive was a red line that could not be crossed.

There is now mounting international pressure for a cease-fire, and ongoing negotiations for a hostage deal. Hamas sent a delegation to join talks in Cairo yesterday, with CIA Director Bill Burns also expected to take part.

Sunday marked six months since the Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7 that revealed Israel’s feet of clay and the fact that it believed its own propaganda that Hamas was not capable of such an attack.

The Israeli response was the desperate offensive in the Gaza Strip, which has killed more than 33,000 and sparked a humanitarian crisis that has brought an estimated one million people to the brink of famine.

Mediators are expected to resume ceasefire talks in Egypt’s capital, Cairo today. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club says Israeli forces arrested at least 15 Palestinians in Hebron, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jenin on Saturday night.

The occupation forces continue to carry out widespread raids and harassment during arrest campaigns, accompanied by severe beatings, threats against detainees and their families, direct shooting with the aim of killing, in addition to widespread sabotage and destruction of citizens’ homes.

Yair Lapid, the leader of the Israeli opposition was expected to meet Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and other officials last night in Washington, DC.

Lapid is also to talk to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who last month called for a snap election in Israel to give voters a chance to get rid of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he described as one of the ‘major obstacles’ to peace.

Speaking to Channel 12 news on Saturday, Lapid blamed Netanyahu for what he called a ‘collapse’ in relations with Washington and said it was questionable if the ties could even be fully repaired by future governments.

Gaza’s Health Ministry says 33,175 Palestinians have been killed and 75,886 wounded since Israel launched its war on the coastal territory in October. The toll includes at least 38 deaths over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said. More than 14,000 children and about 9,220 women have been killed in six months of war.

‘We have arrived at a terrible milestone,’ the UN’s humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in a statement marking six months, while noting ‘the immediate prospect of a shameful man-made famine’.

Griffiths called the prospect of further Israeli escalation in Gaza ‘unconscionable’.

Washington blames the lack of a deal on Hamas’s refusal to release sick and other vulnerable captives. Qatar says Israeli objections to the return of displaced Palestinians in Gaza to their homes are the main obstacle.

Meanwhile, Hamas is fighting. A statement released by Hamas’s military wing says its fighters ambushed three Israeli tanks in az-Zanna area, in the east of Khan Younis city. British workers must now demand that the TUC calls a general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers government to give full political and military support to Palestine!