Spectacular operation in Gaza: Israeli forces rescue two hostages

Spectacular operation in Gaza: Israeli forces rescue two hostages
Spectacular operation in Gaza: Israeli forces rescue two hostages

Intense airstrikes that covered the operation killed at least 67 Palestinians, according to health authorities in the besieged territory.

The fate of the hostages shook Israelis to their core, and the rescue in densely populated Rafah briefly lifted the morale of a nation still reeling from the Hamas cross-border raid that sparked the war last year. Israel has described Rafah ― a town on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip where 1.4 million Palestinians have fled fighting ― as the last Hamas stronghold in the territory and indicated its ground offensive could soon target the town .

In Gaza, the operation triggered yet another tragedy in a war that has killed 28,340 Palestinians in the territory, displaced more than 80 percent of the population and caused a massive humanitarian crisis.

More than 12,300 Palestinian minors ― children and young adolescents ― have been killed in the conflict, the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip said Monday. Some 8,400 women are also among the victims. This means that minors account for approximately 43% of deaths and women and minors together account for 73% of deaths.

The ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians, provided this breakdown at the request of The Associated Press. Israel claims to have killed around 10,000 Hamas fighters.

During the Hamas cross-border raid on October 7, around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and the militants captured 250 people, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel says around 100 hostages are still being held by Hamas, after dozens were freed during a ceasefire in November. Hamas also holds the remains of around 30 other people who were killed on October 7 or who died in captivity.

The government has made the release of the remaining hundred hostages one of the main objectives of its war, as well as the destruction of Hamas’s military and administrative capabilities. But as the fighting drags on, their freedom remains elusive and dissension has emerged in Israel over the best approach to end their ordeal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that continued military pressure will free the captives ― a position he reiterated Monday ― even as other top officials opposed it, saying a deal was the only way to obtain their release.

A dramatic raid

An Israeli army spokesman, Lt. Admiral Daniel Hagari, explained that special forces entered a second-floor apartment in Rafah under fire at 1:49 a.m. Monday local time and that they were followed a minute later by airstrikes on surrounding areas.

He said the hostages were guarded by armed Hamas militants and that members of the rescue team protected the hostages with their bodies as an intense battle ensued in several places at once with the gunmen. of Hamas.

The military identified the rescued hostages as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, kidnapped by Hamas militants in Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on October 7. Mr Netanyahu’s office said they also had Argentine nationality.

The hostages were flown to Sheba Medical Center in central Israel and are in good condition. These are the second and third hostages to be rescued unharmed; a female soldier was rescued in November.

The rescue, which Mr. Hagari said was based on accurate intelligence and planned for some time, boosts Israeli morale but is only a small step toward freeing the remaining hostages, who are believed to be scattered and hiding in tunnels.

Mr. Har’s son-in-law, Idan Begerano, who saw the released captives at the hospital, revealed that the two men were thin and pale, but communicated well and were aware of their surroundings.

Dozens killed in strikes

Airstrikes that supported Israeli forces hit Rafah in the middle of the night and dozens of explosions were heard around 2 a.m. Ashraf al-Qidra, a health ministry spokesman, said at least 67 people, including women and children, were killed in the strikes.

An Associated Press journalist counted at least 50 bodies at Abou Youssef al-Najjar hospital in Rafah.

Images circulating on social media from the Kuwaiti Rafah hospital show dead or injured children. These images could not immediately be verified, but they match the AP’s information.

It shows a young man carrying the body of an infant who he believes was killed during the attacks. He claims that the little girl, his neighbor’s daughter, was born and killed during the war.

“Let Netanyahu come and see: is this (infant) one of your designated targets?” he asked.

Concerns about Rafah

Mr. Netanyahu said sending ground troops to Rafah was essential to achieving Israel’s war goals. On Sunday, the White House said President Joe Biden had warned Netanyahu that Israel should not carry out a military operation against Hamas in Rafah without a “credible and enforceable” plan to protect civilians.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now crowded into Rafah, where hundreds of thousands live in sprawling tent camps and overcrowded U.N. shelters.

Mr. Biden’s remarks, made in a phone call with Mr. Netanyahu, were his strongest language yet on the possibility of an operation.

According to a senior US administration official, discussion of the possibility of a ceasefire agreement took up most of the call and, after weeks of diplomacy, a “framework” is now “at hand”. almost” in place for an agreement which could see the release of the last hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and an end to the fighting.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations, acknowledged there remained “gaps” but declined to elaborate. He added that military pressure on Hamas in the southern city of Khan Younis in recent weeks had helped bring the group closer to agreeing to a deal.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office declined to comment on the call. Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV channel previously quoted an unnamed Hamas official as saying that any invasion of Rafah would “explode” negotiations mediated by the United States, Egypt and Qatar.

MM. Biden and Netanyahu spoke after two Egyptian officials and a Western diplomat said Egypt was threatening to suspend its peace treaty with Israel if troops were sent to Rafah.

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