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Israel has told White House that IDF troops will have "rest and refit," NSC's John Kirby says

IDF troops will have "rest and refit," Kirby says
Israel has told White House that IDF troops will have "rest and refit," NSC's John Kirby says 08:05

Washington — John Kirby, the White House National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said Sunday that Israel has indicated to the Biden administration that the surprise move to pull troops out of southern Gaza is largely for "rest and refit."

Israel's military said Sunday it now has just one division in the Gaza Strip, after the other left in the last day. A spokesperson called the move an evolution of the war, rather than a partial withdrawal. But the thinking behind the move hasn't been made entirely clear. 

"The indications that we've been getting from them this morning is this is really largely rest and refit for troops that have been on the ground consecutively now for four months and they need a chance to come, to come out now," Kirby said on "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "What they'll do with those troops after a rest and refit I can't speak to." 

Noting that he can't speak for the operations of a sovereign military, Kirby stressed that the administration has been clear with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it does not support a ground operation in Rafah, a heavily populated area in southern Gaza, saying that there are alternative options to go after Hamas. He noted that the administration met virtually with Israeli officials last week and expects an in-person meeting "in the next week or so" where they hope to discuss the alternatives.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen says "I'm not clear" on White House policy toward Israel 06:45

The developments come amid ongoing conflict between the Israel Defense Forces and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group. In a statement on Sunday, the IDF said it had completed another phase in preparation for further conflict along its northern border with Lebanon.

"Over the past few days, another phase of the Northern Command's readiness for war was completed, centering on operational emergency storages for a broad mobilization of IDF troops when required ... and their arrival at the front line in a short time with all the equipment for combat," the IDF said in a statement on Telegram.

Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Sunday that Israeli troops pulled out of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza Sunday "to prepare for future missions, including... in Rafah," according to AFP. The forces were withdrawn after months of fierce fighting because "Hamas ceased to exist as a military framework" in Khan Yunis, just north of Rafah, where more than 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering.

The Israeli government has been under intense criticism in recent days after seven humanitarian workers were killed in Gaza.

Kirby reiterated on Sunday that so far, the U.S. has not "seen any indication" that Israel has "violated international humanitarian law," but he noted that the State Department will "keep looking at this."

In the aftermath of the strike last week that killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, Kirby said "there have been too many aid workers killed by Israeli operations" and he added that's why the president "was so firm" with Netanyahu during a call afterward. Kirby reiterated that Israel must make "sustained changes in the way they're operating on the ground and the way they are allowing humanitarian assistance to get in" to Gaza. After Netanyahu's call with Mr. Biden last week, the Israeli government approved the opening of three humanitarian aid corridors that were specifically requested by the president. 

The Israeli military said Friday that they had fired two officers and reprimanded three others for their roles in the strike.

Still, some members of the president's own party have said that he must hold Israel's government more accountable amid a massive civilian death toll in Gaza. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who also appeared on "Face the Nation" on Sunday said that while he was "glad" to see the president's requests of Netanyahu, the White House must outline the "consequences" should Israel disregard them in the future. 

"We have to make sure that when the President requests something that we have a means to enforce it," he said. 

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