Consequences of Israeli strikes, as part of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah
by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Emily Rose
Israel said Monday morning that it had freed two Israeli-Argentinian hostages in a special forces operation carried out alongside airstrikes in the town of Rafah, at the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, where at least 67 Palestinians were killed and dozens of others injured in the bombings according to local health authorities.
The two hostages – Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Hare, 70 – were kidnapped by Hamas in the Nir Yitzhak kibbutz during the attack carried out by the Palestinian group on October 7, the Israeli army said . They are in good health and were taken to a hospital in central Israel, the IDF said in a statement.
“It was a very complex operation,” said an Israeli army spokesperson. “We worked on this operation for a long time. We were waiting for the right conditions,” added Richard Hecht.
The two hostages were held on the second floor of a building which Israeli special forces managed to enter. Intense exchanges of fire took place with neighboring buildings, he said.
A photo released to the media shows the two hostages in hospital, sitting on a sofa with members of their family.
The Argentine government thanked Israel for the release of the two men, who it said also had Argentine nationality.
Idan Bejerano, son-in-law of released hostage Louis Hare, said the two prisoners were sleeping when, “within a matter of a minute,” special forces entered the building.
They are being treated at Israel’s Sheba Hospital, said the facility’s director, Arnon Afek.
An airstrike was carried out to extract the commando from the area, the IDF spokesperson said.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said 67 people were killed and the number could rise as rescue operations were underway. A photo taken at the scene shows a large area of rubble where buildings were destroyed.
Earlier in the night from Sunday to Monday, the Israeli army announced that it had carried out a “series of strikes” in the south of the Gaza Strip, without giving further details.
According to residents contacted by Reuters via a messaging application, Israeli planes, tanks and ships took part in the offensive launched against Rafah. Two mosques and several houses were bombed during more than an hour of strikes, they said.
The bombings created panic, residents said, while many people were asleep.
“It was the worst night since we arrived in Rafah last month. Death was so close that shells and missiles fell 200 meters from our tent camp,” said Emad, a Gaza businessman, father of six, to Reuters via a messaging app.
“Everyone said it was a surprise ground attack. My family and I said our last prayers,” Emad said.
Some said they feared the launch of a ground operation by the Israeli army in Rafah, a town bordering Egypt considered the final refuge for civilians displaced by the fighting for more than four months in the Gaza Strip.
Around one million Palestinians, out of the enclave’s 2.3 million inhabitants, are in Rafah, which is also the main route for food aid since the start of the siege launched by Israel in response to the Hamas attack which left 1,200 dead.
USA, FRANCE AND EGYPT EXPRESSED THEIR CONCERNS ON SUNDAY
US President Joe Biden on Sunday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to guarantee the safety of Palestinian civilians before beginning any military operations in Rafah.
France warned on Sunday of the risk of a major humanitarian disaster in Rafah.
A similar warning was issued by Egypt, whose Foreign Ministry called on Sunday not to carry out an assault on Rafah, at the risk of “disastrous consequences”.
A senior Hamas representative, quoted by Al-Aqsa, the Palestinian movement’s television channel, warned Sunday that any ground offensive by Israel in Rafah would torpedo indirect negotiations between the two camps on the release of hostages.
Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week rejected the ceasefire plan submitted by Hamas as part of the Qatar-led talks, called for the implementation of an attack plan to eradicate Hamas battalions in Rafah and free the 132 hostages still held in Gaza.
Some of the 250 hostages kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 have since been released, mainly as part of a one-week break in the fighting obtained at the end of November thanks to mediation by Doha.
After initially focusing its bombings and operations in the north of the Gaza Strip, which it said it had placed generally under control, Israel has since the beginning of December intensified its offensive in the south of the enclave, mainly around the city of Khan Younes.
More than 28,000 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of the Israeli offensive, which has also ravaged entire neighborhoods of the enclave, knocked out hospitals and schools, and caused a food crisis.
(Reporting Emily Rose in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Doha, with Reuters offices; French version Jean Terzian and Diana Mandiá)