Israeli forces early yesterday rescued two hostages, storming a heavily guarded apartment in the Gaza Strip and extracting the captives under fire in a dramatic raid that was a small, but symbolically significant success for Israel.
The operation killed at least 67 Palestinians, including women and children, Palestinian health officials said.
To assist the rescue forces, heavy airstrikes pounded the area near the apartment in Rafah, a city on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip where 1.4 million Palestinians have fled to escape fighting elsewhere in the Israel-Hamas war.
The raid was celebrated in Israel as a victory in the sluggish battle to free the hostages, with more than 100 captives still held by Hamas and other Gaza militants, and briefly lifted the spirits of a nation still reeling from Hamas’ cross-border raid last year.
However, in Gaza, where civilians have borne a staggering toll since the war erupted on Oct. 7, the operation unleashed another wartime tragedy, with many Palestinians killed or wounded.
More than 12,300 Palestinian minors — children and young teens — have been killed in Israel’s war against Hamas, the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said yesterday. That means minors make up about 47 percent of the 28,176 Palestinians killed so far. About 8,400 women were also among those killed.
Israel has described Rafah as the last remaining Hamas stronghold in Gaza and signaled that its ground offensive could soon target the densely populated city. On Sunday, the White House said US President Joe Biden had warned Netanyahu that Israel should not conduct a military operation against Hamas in Rafah without a “credible and executable” plan to protect civilians.
The army identified the rescued hostages as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, abducted by Hamas militants from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in the Oct. 7 cross-border attack that triggered the war. Netanyahu’s office said they also hold Argentine citizenship.
They were among about 250 taken captive during the Hamas’ raid, when an estimated 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed, Israeli authorities said.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said special forces broke into a second-floor apartment in Rafah under fire at 1:49am yesterday, accompanied a minute later by airstrikes on surrounding areas.
He said the hostages were being guarded by armed Hamas militants and that members of the rescue team shielded the hostages with their bodies as a heavy battle erupted in several places at once with Hamas gunmen.
The hostages were taken to a nearby “safe area,” given a quick medical check and airlifted to Sheba Medical Center in central Israel. Their medical condition was reported to be good. They are just the second and third hostages to be rescued safely; a female soldier was rescued in November.
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