Gaza: The Israeli military said it rescued two hostages from captivity in the Gaza Strip early Monday, marking a small but symbolically significant success in its quest to bring home over 100 captives believed to be held by the Hamas militant group. The two men were rescued from a residential building in the southern border town of Rafah in a raid that also killed at least seven people, according to Palestinian officials. Witnesses reported at least 17 airstrikes, flares and Apache helicopter fire.
VIDEO: Two freed Israel hostages arrive at hospital near Tel Aviv
The army identified the two rescued hostages as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, and said both were in good medical condition. It said both men were kidnapped by Hamas militants from Kibbutz Nir Yizhak in the October 7 cross-border attack that started the Israel-Hamas war, now in its fifth month. They are just the second and third hostages to be rescued safely.
WATCH: Relatives shocked over the sudden release of hostages
Over 100 hostages freed
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said the operation was based on “precise intelligence,” and that the site, located on the second floor of a building, had been watched for “some time.” He said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined Israel’s military chief and other top officials as the raid unfolded. Hamas militants killed an estimated 1,200 people and kidnapped 250 others in the October 7 raid that triggered the war. An Israeli air and ground offensive has killed over 28,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials.
Over 100 hostages were freed during a weeklong cease-fire in November. Israel says about 100 hostages remain in Hamas captivity, while Hamas is holding the remains of roughly 30 others who were either killed on October 7 or died in captivity. Israel has made the rescue of all hostages one of the main goals of the war.
At least 37 killed in Gaza’s Rafah, many were asleep when strikes hit
Israel launched a special forces operation that freed two Israeli hostages in Rafah amid air strikes early on Monday, which local health officials said killed 37 people and wounded dozens in the southern Gaza city. An air strike was carried out to allow the forces to be extracted, he said. The air strikes caused widespread panic in Rafah as many people were asleep when the strikes started, said residents contacted by Reuters using a chat app. Some feared Israel had begun its ground offensive into Rafah.
VIDEO: IDF airstrikes Rafah border region
Israeli planes, tanks and ships took part in the strikes, with two mosques and several houses hit, according to residents. The Israeli military said on Monday it had conducted a “series of strikes” on southern Gaza that have now “concluded”, without providing further details. Before previous assaults on Gaza cities, Israel’s military has ordered civilians to leave without preparing any specific evacuation plan.
IDF airstrikes continue despite Biden’s expressing concerns over deaths
US President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that Israel should not launch a military operation in Rafah without a credible plan to ensure the safety of the roughly 1 million people sheltering there, the White House said. Aid agencies say an assault on Rafah would be catastrophic. It is the last relatively safe place in an enclave devastated by Israel’s military offensive. Biden and Netanyahu spoke for about 45 minutes, days after the U.S. leader said Israel’s military response in the Gaza Strip had been “over the top” and expressed grave concern over the rising civilian death toll in the Palestinian enclave. Netanyahu’s office has said that it had ordered the military to develop a plan to evacuate Rafah and destroy four Hamas battalions it says are deployed there.
(With inputs from agency)