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Withdrawal of some Israeli troops appears to be start of next phase of war, US official says

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Israel’s announcement that it is starting to draw down its number of troops in Gaza shows signs of the country’s gradual shift to a lower-intensity phase of its war, a senior United States official said Monday.

The Israel Defense Forces said earlier Monday it was beginning to reduce the number of soldiers on the ground in Gaza as it prepares for prolonged fighting throughout 2024.

The US has been pressing Israeli officials to begin the more surgical phase of fighting as the Israeli military continues to target Hamas.

The official said the move reflected the success IDF forces have had in northern Gaza in dismantling Hamas’ military capabilities.

Still, the official cautioned there was still fighting ongoing in the north and that it did not appear to reflect any changes in the south of Gaza.

US officials are viewing the next few weeks as a critical period that will demonstrate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s willingness to move to a lower-intensity phase of going after Hamas in Gaza.

To look out for: Later this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken travels to the Middle East to continue discussions with Israeli officials about the next phase of the war in Gaza, which American officials have made clear they expect to begin soon.

Blinken’s trip is a continuation of a Biden administration initiative of sending its most senior officials to Israel on a near-weekly basis for direct, in-person meetings with Israel’s war cabinet.

The topic of the war’s trajectory has been at the center of conversations between American and Israeli officials, including a lengthy phone call between President Joe Biden and Netanyahu last week that officials described as very direct and at times strained.

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