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War on Gaza: New year begins with shelling, as Israel announces partial troop withdrawal from Gaza

Palestinian death toll approaches 22,000, as Israeli officials confirm thousands of soldiers set to be moved out of enclave
The sun rises above the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on 1 January 2024 (AFP)
The sun rises above the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on 1 January 2024 (AFP)
By Mohammed al-Homs in Gaza, occupied Palestine and Rayhan Uddin in London

The new year began with continued Israeli bombardment flattening homes across Gaza and a flurry of rockets targeting Tel Aviv at midnight.

The death toll of Palestinians killed in the enclave since the war began on 7 October approached the 22,000 mark, as heavy tank shelling and air strikes were reported overnight and into Monday morning across the territory.

In the southern area of Khan Younis, air strikes killed and wounded several people, according to medics. 

In Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, a resident who survived an Israeli air strike on a school, which killed six people on Sunday, recalled the moment the bomb hit.

"We were charging our phones in the yard when out of nowhere, a bomb was dropped on us," the man, who did not give a name, told Middle East Eye on Monday.

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"This is a school full of children and elderly people. They told us to move to Deir al-Balah and that's why we came here. They said this school is safe. Is this what safety looks like?

"Not a single man was in the room that was hit, only women and children and we recovered them as dismembered corpses. Where are the people of conscience? Wake up."

It came as officials announced that Israel had begun the process of withdrawing thousands of its troops out of Gaza. 

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Military spokesperson Daniel Hagari told reporters on Monday that five brigades would be moved out of the enclave for training and rest.

He did not clarify whether Israel was entering a new phase of the war, but indicated that it would continue to wage a long war. 

"The objectives of the war require prolonged fighting, and we are preparing accordingly," Hagari said.

An unnamed Israeli official told Reuters that some troops may be re-deployed to the northern border with Lebanon, whose Hezbollah members have been exchanging fire with Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians.

The official added that the withdrawal was designed to "re-energise the Israeli economy". 

Israel plans to bring in around 70,000 foreign workers from China, India and elsewhere to boost its construction sector, which has been largely frozen since the war began, Calcalist reported on Monday. 

A plan to increase the quota of foreign construction workers to 70,000 from 50,000 would be approved by the government in the coming days, the report stated. 

Officials 'concerned' ICJ could charge Israel with genocide

Israeli officials expressed concerned that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) could charge the state with genocide in Gaza, Haaretz reported on Monday. 

According to the Israeli daily, a senior legal expert dealing with the case has warned the military leadership that there is a "real danger" the court will issue an injection calling on Israel to halt its military action in Gaza. 

The military and the state attorney's office are now preparing to deal with the complaint filed by South Africa on Friday.

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Also on Monday, Israel's far-right national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir instructed prison services not to provide meat to Palestinian prisoners detained over alleged involvement in the 7 October attacks.

"Our hostages in Gaza are suffering from hunger. We heard testimonies of half a pita, and here the [7 October] prisoners receive hearty meals. From my perspective, they can receive the minimum that we are obligated to give them," Ben Gvir said, according to a report in Ynet. 

Elsewhere, a Palestinian baby found in Gaza was reportedly taken by a soldier to Israel. 

"In a call on Israel's army radio station GLZ Radio, Shahar Mendelson, a friend of Harel Itah, an Israeli captain who died on Saturday of his wounds in Gaza, said that Itah found a baby during his time in Gaza and took it back to Israel. 

"He entered a house in Gaza and heard a baby girl crying... he decided to find her and took her back to Israel," Mendelson said on air.

Outside of Israel and Palestine, British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has said his country's armed forces were ready to join the US and potentially go to war in Yemen

In an article for the Daily Telegraph, Shapps said the UK was "willing to take direct action" against the Houthi movement after the US said its navy sank three boats over the weekend for allegedly targeting a container ship in the Red Sea.

The Houthis have carried out several attacks in recent weeks, targeting ships which it said were linked to Israel. 

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