The Israeli military said it freed two hostages from captivity in the Gaza Strip on Monday, marking a modest but symbolically significant success in its quest to bring home more than 100 captives believed to be held by the Hamas militant group.
The hostages were freed in a raid that included a series of, the city on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip where 1.4 million Palestinians have fled to escape fighting elsewhere in the war between Israel and Hamas. At least seven people were killed.
Israel has described Rafah as the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza after more than four months of war and signaled that its ground offensive could soon target the densely populated town.
On Sunday, the White House said President Biden warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel should not carry out a military operation against Hamas in Rafah without a “credible and enforceable” plan to protect civilians.
The military identified the rescued hostages as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, who it said were kidnapped by Hamas militants from Kibbutz Nir Yizhak during the October 7 cross-border attack who started the war. Both were flown to Sheba Hospital in central Israel and are said to be in good condition. These are only the second and third hostages to be safely rescued. A female soldier was rescued in November.
Monday’s raid included at least 15 airstrikes, flares and fire from Apache helicopters, according to witnesses. Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a military spokesman, said the operation was based on “precise intelligence” and that the site, located on the second floor of a building, had been under surveillance for some time. He added that Netanyahu joined the Israeli army chief and other senior officials as the raid unfolded.
Hamas militants killed around 1,200 people and kidnapped 250 others during the October 7 raid in southern Israel. An Israeli air and ground offensive has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, according to local health authorities, displacing more than 80% of the population, leading to a massive humanitarian crisis.
More than 100 hostages were freed during a week-long ceasefire in November. Israel says around 100 hostages remain in Hamas captivity, while Hamas holds the remains of around 30 others who were killed on October 7 or died in captivity. Three hostages were mistakenly killed by the army after escaping from their captors in December.
The remaining hostages are believed to be scattered and hidden in tunnels, likely in poor conditions. The rescue boosts Israeli morale, but it is a small step toward their liberation.
Har’s son-in-law, Idan Bergerano, told Israel’s Channel 13 TV that he and his wife were able to see the released captives at the hospital. He said both men were thin, but communicated well and were aware of their surroundings. Bergernano said Har told him immediately after seeing him, “You have a birthday today, mazal tov.”
Israel has made the return of all hostages one of the main goals of the war. Netanyahu has pledged to continue the Israeli military offensive until “total victory” that also involves the destruction of Hamas’s military and government capabilities.
Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from www.cbsnews.com