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Israel defense minister declares victory in Gaza's Khan Younis

On Thursday, smoke rises over buildings in Khan Yunis during an Israeli bombardment. Israel's Defense Minister officially declared Hamas forces in Khan Younis defeated Thursday. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
On Thursday, smoke rises over buildings in Khan Yunis during an Israeli bombardment. Israel's Defense Minister officially declared Hamas forces in Khan Younis defeated Thursday. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI

Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Israel's defense minister said Thursday that ground forces have officially routed Hamas from Gaza's Khan Younis.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the victory comes as Israel Defense Forces have killed 10,000 Hamas fighters and wounded another 10,000.

Earlier in the day, Gallant told ground troops that their actions "(bring) the return of the hostages closer, because Hamas only understands power."

Gallant's statement came days after IDF predictions that Hamas' hold on Khan Younis would be broken within a few weeks.

The IDF has not yet announced full operational control of Khan Younis. The military just days ago said it was on the verge of dismantling the final Hamas battalion in the western section of the city but suggested the process could take weeks.

In Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, women sit at tent camp sheltering refugees who have fled fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
In Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, women sit at tent camp sheltering refugees who have fled fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI

Gallant's announcement would suggest the IDF has reduced Hamas' forces by 56-75%, presuming Hamas' pre-war forces were between 30,000 and 40,000.

The IDF said it has achieved significant victories in Khan Younis by limiting Hamas' ability to operate discreetly in the area.

A tent camp shelters refugees who have fled fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
A tent camp shelters refugees who have fled fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI

Israel's 55th Reserve Brigade concluded its mission in the area Thursday by destroying approximately 70 shafts used by Hamas for covert operations and disabling two Hamas missile launch sites. Sniper teams also dispatched several Hamas squads, according to the IDF.

Gallant also vowed to drive Hamas out of Rafah, which is divided by the Gaza-Egypt border. The IDF has avoided using ground troops in the area for fear of stoking armed conflict with Egypt.

Women sit by clothes drying on a laundry line outside a Palestinian outpost painted in camouflage colours near a tent camp sheltering refugees who have fled fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
Women sit by clothes drying on a laundry line outside a Palestinian outpost painted in camouflage colours near a tent camp sheltering refugees who have fled fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI

"Hamas's Khan Younis Brigade boasted that it would stand against the IDF, it is dismantled, and I am telling you here, we are completing the mission in Khan Younis, and we will also reach Rafah and eliminate everyone there who is a terrorist who is trying to harm us," the defense minister said to members of the IDF's 98th Division