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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Israeli forces to shift toward Lebanese border – Netanyahu

The prime minister has claimed the “intense phase” of fighting in Gaza is nearly over, clearing the way to confront Hezbollah

Israeli troops are poised to shift toward the country’s border with Lebanon to confront Hezbollah as the fighting against Hamas in the Gaza Strip winds down, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has revealed.

Speaking on Sunday in his first Israeli television interview since the war with Hamas started last October, Netanyahu said major combat operations in the Palestinian enclave are nearly over. “It doesn’t mean that the war is about to end, but the war in its intense phase is about to end in Rafah,” he added. “This is true. We will continue mowing the grass all the time.”

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With many of the troops in Gaza being freed up, the prime minister said, Israeli units will “face north.” The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will be redeployed to the border region, where exchanges of rocket fire with Hezbollah have intensified in recent weeks. Israeli residents of the region have been evacuated since the war with Hamas began over eight months ago.

“We will have the possibility to shift some of the power north, and we will do it – first of all, for protection purposes, and secondly, to bring our residents home,” Netanyahu told Israel’s Channel 14 TV. “If we can, we will do this diplomatically. If not, we will do it another way, but we will bring all of them home.”

Rising tensions between West Jerusalem and Hezbollah have stoked US fears that Israel will trigger a wider war in the Middle East, dragging in American forces. Netanyahu dismissed such concerns, saying, “We can fight on several fronts, and we are prepared to do that.”

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Israel drew international condemnation for its military offensive in Rafah, which imperiled civilians in a city where more than 1 million Palestinians had taken refuge after their neighborhoods in other parts of Gaza were bombarded. More than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, according to Gaza health authorities. The latest conflict started when Hamas launched surprise attacks against southern Israeli villages, killing more than 1,100 people and taking hundreds of hostages back to Gaza.

Netanyahu suggested that he’s open to considering a ceasefire deal to secure the release of an estimated 116 Israeli hostages still in captivity. However, he insisted that West Jerusalem’s goal remains to destroy Hamas. The Iran-backed militant group has demanded a permanent ceasefire and a full withdrawal of Israeli troops as part of any deal to stop the fighting.