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Active Fighting Subsides in Gaza, but the War Is Not Over, Officials Say

The Israeli military’s departure from southern Gaza over the weekend has left the devastated territory in a state of suspense as active fighting there receded on Monday to its lowest ebb since a brief truce with Hamas in November.

But even as some observers hoped Israel’s withdrawal from the area might portend a new cease-fire, both Hamas and Israeli officials suggested the war was not yet over.

Analysts said the withdrawal of Israeli troops suggested only that the war had entered a new phase, one in which Israel would continue to mount small-scale operations across Gaza to prevent Hamas’s resurgence. That strategy, they said, could occupy a middle ground between reaching a lasting truce with Hamas and ordering a major ground assault into Rafah, Hamas’s last stronghold in southern Gaza where more than one million of Palestinians have taken refuge.

In a statement on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said that while Israel was still pursuing a deal to secure the release of its hostages in Gaza, it was also seeking “total victory over Hamas.”

“This victory requires entering Rafah and eliminating the terrorist battalions there,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “This will happen; there is a date.” He did not specify the date.

By withdrawing now without having fulfilled its stated mission of eliminating Hamas and without empowering an alternative Palestinian leadership, Israel has left behind a power vacuum in Gaza, in which Hamas could regroup and re-emerge as a military force across much of the territory.

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