Two Israeli hostages rescued in Gaza night raid as air strikes hit Rafah

The rescue operation is the third reported attempt to free hostages held in the enclave since the war began on October 7

Israeli-Argentinian hostage Louis Har (L) being reunited with his family at the Tel Hashomer Hospital in Ramat Gan, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. AFP
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Two Israeli hostages held by Hamas were rescued by Israeli troops on Monday, the Israeli army said.

The rescue was reported in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, which came under fresh bombardment from Israeli jets on Sunday morning, killing at least 50 people, Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

The army identified the two hostages as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, saying they “were kidnapped by the Hamas terrorist organisation on October 7th from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak”.

The Israeli military said the operation was a joint effort between the Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security services, the military and the police.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the mission as "one of the most successful rescue operations in the history of the State of Israel".

He made the comments during a visit to Israel's National Counter Terrorism Unit on Monday.

The rescue operation comes ahead of fresh negotiations on Tuesday in Cairo, with hostage releases, releases of Palestinians in Israeli jails and a possible truce on the agenda, part of continuing mediation attempts involving the US, Qatar and Egypt to strike a compromise between Hamas and Israel.

“They are both in good medical condition, and were transferred for medical examination at the Sheba Tel Hashomer hospital,” the Israeli army said.

An unnamed relative of one of the hostages told Israeli outlet Ynet that both men had lost a great deal of weight and that they were "very weak".

The effort is one of at least three reported hostage rescue attempts since Hamas took about 250 Israelis hostage during its surprise attack on southern Israel.

Israel says about 130 are still in Gaza following a hostages for Palestinian detainees exchange that saw the release of 200 Palestinians and a week-long truce. Twenty-nine of the remaining 130 hostages are thought to be dead.

Israel responded to the October 7 attack with a massive aerial bombardment of the strip, striking Hamas rocket sites but also destroying densely populated neighbourhoods and tower blocks. More than 28,000 Palestinians have died in the onslaught and subsequent ground invasion.

Revealing details of the raid, Israeli army spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said soldiers arrived at the building located in Rafah’s Shabura neighbourhood at about 1am and broke in. Gunfire was exchanged with gunmen in adjacent buildings when the captives were extracted.

“There was intense firepower from the air. Fire was opened from nearby buildings. The Air Force struck intensively there,” he said. “Many terrorists were eliminated tonight in this action.” There were no fatalities but one soldier was injured, Rear Adm Hagari said.

Former Israeli Chief Intelligence Officer Maj Gen David Tsur said the rescue “will prompt Hamas to take new security measures, but every time we get such an opportunity, we will act”.

“We’ll get more intelligence as we move south, because Rafah and Khan Younis are the two main areas where we still have to finish tactical operations,” he said.

Monday’s rescue effort is one of at least three reported since Israeli forces entered Gaza on October 27.

On October 30, Israeli commandos rescued Ori Megidish, a soldier captured during the October 7 raid. Over a week later, two Israeli soldiers were injured in a failed rescue attempt, during which the Israelis later said a hostage had been killed in crossfire.

Despite growing calls within Israel for a deal to free the hostages, the government regularly argues that intense military pressure is crucial to releasing captives.

Thousands protested across Israel on Saturday calling for a deal to free the hostages. Relatives of hostages blocked the main motorway in Tel Aviv and lit bonfires.

Critics of the military approach to rescuing captives point to the small number of hostages released in the high-risk operations.

Three Israeli captives were shot dead by their country's military in Gaza in December.

The incident, which sent shockwaves through Israeli society, happened despite the men taking steps to identify themselves as hostages by writing a sign nearby reading "help, 3 hostages", taking off their clothes to show they were not carrying weapons, and waving a white flag.

Updated: February 12, 2024, 3:40 PM