Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant estimated Tuesday that the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas still has several thousand fighters left in the Gaza Strip after beginning the war with between 15,000 to 18,000.
Gallant, speaking during a visit to troops inside Gaza, also said it would be a mistake to think that Israel is planning on halting the war, according to The Associated Press.
“The feeling that we will stop soon is incorrect,” he said. “Without a clear victory, we will not be able to live in the Middle East.”
Gallant said Israel has destroyed 12 Hamas battalions in northern Gaza, and although this does not mean Hamas has been eliminated altogether, the terrorist organization’s capabilities are limited.
But in southern Gaza, Gallant said “the reality is different” and Israel is still fighting a tougher battle, the AP reports.
The comments come a day after the Israeli military said it was pulling out several thousand troops from Gaza in the biggest drawdown of forces since the war erupted nearly three months ago.
The Israel Defense Forces will now shift toward more targeted operations against Hamas, reducing the use of artillery and airstrikes. Some of the reservists called up for active duty will also return to civilian life to help stimulate the economy, Reuters reported.
Nevertheless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated this weekend that the war is set to last many more months.
“This will take six months at least, and involve intense mopping-up missions against the terrorists. No one is talking about doves of peace being flown from Shajaia,” an Israeli official told Reuters, referring to a district in Gaza.
Fox News’ Anders Hagstrom and The Associated Press contributed to this report.