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Day 138: IDF withdraws last reserve brigade from Gaza as Khan Younis fighting draws to close

Large-scale raid launched in northern Gaza town of Zeitoun

IDF soldiers fighting in Khan Younis, Feb. 21 2024 (Photo: IDF)

The Israel Defense Forces withdrew its last reserve brigade fighting in the Gaza Strip, leaving only regular army troops to continue the war against the Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

The IDF on Tuesday announced that the 646th Reserve Paratrooper’s Brigade had “completed its mission in the Gaza Strip last week, and these days is undergoing a cooling down process.”

Capt. Yigal Dalmoni, a company brigade commander told Israel's Reshet Bet radio that the withdrawal doesn’t mean the IDF is lowering the intensity of the fighting.

“People think that the IDF is winding down in Gaza – it’s exactly the opposite. The IDF wins every encounter with terrorists, unfortunately, there are also casualties. We enter every place and do every task day and night, with a very strong sense of security.”

During their months-long operations, the brigade eliminated numerous terrorists, located weapons, and destroyed a strategic underground route of Hamas that crossed the Gaza Strip from north to south.

Meanwhile, the IDF on Tuesday launched a new large-scale raid in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City with soldiers of the 401st and Nahal Brigades under the command of the 162nd Division taking the lead.

The operation was preceded by overnight airstrikes to prepare for the entry of the ground forces into the neighborhood where the IDF so far hasn’t operated on a larger scale. The operation is expected to last several weeks, Army Radio reported.

Troops from the 401st Brigade have already eliminated dozens of terrorists during ground operations, while its fire center coordinated with planes and combat helicopters to eliminate terrorists firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli soldiers.

The Air Force also cooperated with the 215th Artillery Brigade to destroy dozens of targets, including terrorist infrastructures, observation posts, weapons warehouses and underground targets in Zeitoun.

Other targets were lathes and sites for the production of explosives, as well as two underground tunnels that were located previously but hadn’t been destroyed.

After Israeli forces maneuvered freely over many miles toward the targets, pointing to the operational freedom achieved during previous phases of the war, they then met a lot of resistance, according to Army Radio.

Dozens of terrorists were killed and about 10 of them were taken as prisoners in the intense battles.

As a result of the operation, one Israeli soldier was killed and two were seriously wounded. The fallen soldier was identified as 21-year-old Staff Sgt. Avraham Wovagen from Netanya.

Meanwhile, the continued operations of the 98th Division in Khan Younis are drawing to a close, according to IDF assessments report by Israeli media.

Also in Khan Younis, special forces at Nasser Hospital continued with excavations and underground drilling to locate tunnels under the hospital compound.

The Givati Brigade battlegroup attacked new areas in eastern Khan Younis, eliminating many terrorists over the last day.

In the western part of the town, the Paratrooper Brigade’s battlegroup advanced and expanded its operations, eliminating terrorists with precise sniper fire and destroying terrorist infrastructures.

Their comrades in the Commando Brigade expanded their operations in western Khan Younis and eliminated several terrorists, while the 7th Brigade directed an aircraft to eliminate two terrorists on bicycles who were moving toward Israeli soldiers.

According to reports, the IDF has only a few more targets left in the area and expects to reach them in the coming days, as the intensity of the fighting has begun to diminish in Khan Younis. In recent days the IDF eliminated an average of 20-30 terrorists every day, compared to 50-60 terrorists previously, Army Radio reported.

In total, it is estimated that about 2,900 terrorists were eliminated since the beginning of the operation in the city.

After completing its mission in Khan Younis, the IDF High Command will decide on the division’s next target – the remaining camps in central Gaza or in the town of Rafah.

Army Radio reported that the IDF is expected to come to a decision in the coming days regarding the controversial upcoming operation in Rafah, near the Egyptian border, which is believed to be the last main stronghold of Hamas.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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