IDF 'Toward the End of its Mission' to Destroy Gaza Tunnels
IDF forces are completing their mission to destroy terror tunnels in the early morning Sunday, a senior IDF officer told Arutz Sheva, saying that "we are toward the end of our mission in the tunnels."
His statements came as Israel began withdrawing some ground troops from the Gaza Strip and redeploying others.
But despite the developments, Operation Protective Edge is still ongoing, the army has emphasized.
"We are removing some (forces), we are changing from within," Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said to AFP, describing it as "an ongoing mission". "We are redeploying within the Gaza Strip and taking out other different positions, and relieving other forces from within," he said.
"But indeed we will continue to operate ... (and) have a rapid reaction force on the ground that can engage Hamas if required," he added.
"It's changing gear but it's still ongoing."
His remarks came a day after the Israeli army gave a first indication it was ending operations in parts of Gaza, informing residents of Beit Lahiya and Al-Atatra in the north that it was "safe" to return home.
Witnesses in the north confirmed seeing troops leaving the area as others were seen pulling out of villages east of Khan Yunis in the south.
It was the first time troops had been seen pulling back since the start of the Israeli operation which began on July 8.
Lerner confirmed troops had pulled out of Beit Lahiya and Al-Atatra, but refused to be drawn on whether the pullout would expand into other areas hit by heavy fighting.
"The reality is that Hamas has tried to continue its attacks so we need to maintain our presence to a certain extent and combat those intentions," he said.
"In the next 24 hours we will see the activity continued on the ground and the redeployment in parallel," he said, without elaborating.
The IDF attacked 108 terror targets overnight Saturday/Sunday, the official said.
One soldier was seriously wounded by sniper fire overnight in Beit Hanoun; in a positive development, the Givati Brigade reportedly uncovered an enormous weapons cache overnight - including several rockets, rocket launchers, and arms.
The IDF Spokesperson's Office has also released funeral information for the two 188th Armored Brigade, or "Lightning Brigade," officers killed Thursday evening from mortar fire along the Gaza border.
The funeral of IDF officer, Captain Omri Tal, 22, of Yehud, will be held Sunday at 5:00 pm in the military section of the Yehud cemetery.
The funeral of reserve officer, Major Liran Aderi (Adir), 31, from Azouz, will be held Sunday at 5:00 pm in the Netanya cemetery.
As Operation Protective Edge enters its twenty-seventh (27) day on Sunday, a total of 3,127 rockets have been fired on Israeli civilians in just under four weeks, the IDF said. Of those, 86 were fired on Saturday.