Israel has withdrawn its troops from the south of the Gaza Strip, notably from the town of Khan Younes, under pressure from the United States, after months of fighting against Hamas, the army and Israeli media reported on Sunday. 

Israel on Sunday pulled all its troops out of southern Gaza, including from the city of Khan Younes, the military and Israeli media said, after months of fierce fighting with Hamas militants left the area devastated. This comes as the United States has increasingly pressured the Israelis to retreat, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “one step away from victory.”

However, the Israeli military, said a “significant force” will continue to operate in the rest of the besieged Gaza Strip. “The 98th commando division has concluded its mission in Khan Younes,” the army said in a statement to AFP. “The division left the Gaza Strip in order to recuperate and prepare for future operations.

“A significant force led by the 162nd division and the Nahal brigade continues to operate in the Gaza Strip and will preserve the IDF’s freedom of action and its ability to conduct precise intelligence-based operations,” the statement said.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said the withdrawal was tactical.

An army official told the left-leaning daily that “there’s no need for us to remain in the sector without an [operational] need”.

“The 98th division dismantled Hamas’s Khan Younes brigades and killed thousands of its members. We did everything we could there.”

Displaced Palestinians from Khan Younes may now be able to return to their homes after sheltering in the far southern city of Rafah, Haaretz reported the official as saying.

However, the army “will continue to operate there according to the operational needs,” the official told Haaretz.

Netanyahu said Israel was “one step away from victory” in the Gaza war and vowed there would be no truce until Hamas frees all hostages.

“We are one step away from victory,” Netanyahu said. “But the price we paid is painful and heartbreaking.”

Speaking as truce talks were expected to resume in Cairo with international mediators, he said: “There will be no ceasefire without the return of hostages. It just won’t happen.”

He stressed that “Israel is ready for a deal, Israel is not ready to surrender”.

“Instead of international pressure being directed at Israel, which only causes Hamas to harden its positions, the pressure of the international community should be directed against Hamas. This will advance the release of the hostages.”

Once densely populated, Khan Younes has been the scene of fierce fighting for months, with relentless bombardment reducing swathes of the city to rubble.

Despite an international outcry, the Israeli government has vowed to carry out a ground offensive in and around neighboring Rafah city where more than 1.5 million Gazans have sought refuge.