IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz addressed the winding-down process of Operation Protective Edge on Wednesday afternoon, shortly before reports surfaced that 30,000 reserve soldiers in Gaza had been discharged.
"We are at the end of a long and continuous process, which began with a very broad campaign in Gaza and continued with a significant ground offensive," Gantz stated. "The result is devastation in Gaza, and guilt for the tragedy rests on Hamas leaders, which used civilians in the line of fire in an indiscriminate manner."
The Chief of Staff stressed that "Hamas leaders are hiding in their basements" and that the IDF will respond to any incidents of rocket fire on Israeli civilians.
“I hope this lesson will be internalized in the Gaza Strip, because we will not hesitate to continue to mobilize our forces as necessary to ensure the security of Israeli citizens,” he added.
Gantz also urged the residents of the Gaza border towns to return home.
“I am convinced the residents can return to their houses, develop their fields, live well here, just as it was before,” he says.
“Just as there was peace here before, it will be even quieter after [the operation]," he urged. "The IDF is not going anywhere. It remains to protect, to make breakthroughs, to seek the next challenge, and together with the citizens we will continue to enhance security in this area.”
The IDF announced Wednesday afternoon that some 55,000 soldiers - mainly regular service units - will stay along the Gaza border for the time being, to protect communities near the fence.
Hof Ashkelon Regional Council head Yair Farjun noted, however, that up to 60% of Gaza border residents have left the area, and many are reluctant to return home.