JERUSALEM (NEWSnet/AP) — Israel's military announced Sunday it is withdrawing some forces from a Hamas stronghold in southern Gaza.

It brings troop presence in the territory to one of the lowest levels since the war began in October.

Forces will recuperate and prepare for operations while a significant number remain elsewhere in Gaza, said Israel military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. The 98th paratroopers division operated near Khan Younis, Israel’s main focus in recent months.

Israel has vowed a ground offensive on the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah, considered Hamas’ final stronghold. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday told his Cabinet victory means “elimination of Hamas in the entire Gaza Strip, including Rafah.”

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told ABC the U.S. believes the partial withdrawal “is really just about rest and refit for these troops that have been on the ground for four months and not necessarily ... indicative of some coming new operation for these troops.”

Negotiation in pursuit of a cease-fire in exchange for the hostages’ release was expected to resume Sunday in Cairo.

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