GAZA, Israel — The Israeli military said Monday it has rescued two hostages during a special operation conducted overnight in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza that came under sustained Israeli airstrikes throughout the night.
The hostages are 60-year-old Fernando Simon Marman and 70-year-old Louis Har, who were both taken 128 days ago during Hamas’ October 7th attack on Israel. They are dual Israel-Argentine nationals, according to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.
The two are in good medical condition and have been transferred for Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer, said the Israel Defense Forces. The joint operation was done with the Israeli Security Agency and Israel Police, it said.
IDF spokesperson Danial Hagari told reporters on Monday the “covert operation with extraction under fire” began at 1:49 a.m. local time, followed by aerial strikes.
The Israeli forces encountered resistance, with the hostages escorted out under fire from Hamas, before they were taken to a safe place within Rafah for medical attention, he said. They were then airlifted out of Gaza by helicopter.
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The office of Argentina’s President Javier Milei praised Israel for the rescue, and thanked the Israeli forces behind the operation.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant hailed what he called an “impressive release operation” in a statement on X, formerly Twitter, saying he had followed the operation in the Command Center along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior commanders.
Netanyahu released a statement Monday welcoming the two hostages back, and praising the Israeli forces. “Only the continuation of military pressure, until complete victory, will result in the release of all our hostages,” he said.
Netanyahu has been under mounting pressure from the Israeli public to secure the release of captives in Gaza, with some families of those held hostage being openly critical of the government’s tactics.
Both hostages had been kidnapped from the Nir Yitzhak kibbutz, Gallant said. Nir Yitzhak was one of multiple kibbutzim close to the border with Gaza that came under attack by Hamas militants during their October 7 rampage which saw some 1,200 people killed and more than 240 taken hostage.
After Monday’s rescue, the total number of hostages left in Gaza is 134, Hagari said. Of that number, 130 hostages are from the October 7 attack – with 29 dead and 101 believed to be alive. The other four had been held in Gaza prior to the attack.
Most hostages are being held by Hamas, though some are also reportedly held by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
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Israel’s response to the Hamas attack has wrought widespread devastation across Gaza. The Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza said the cumulative toll since October 7 has risen to more than 27,500 killed.
The sides have been unable to reach an agreement to release more hostages since one in November collapsed. That agreement resulted in a weeklong pause in fighting in exchange for the release of more than 100 hostages, mostly elderly women and children.
And previous attempts to rescue hostages in special operations have gone awry; in December, Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Israeli hostages in Gaza after misidentifying them as threats.
Rafah pounded by airstrikes
The news of the hostage release comes as Rafah was being pounded by Israeli attacks. The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said on Monday that more than 100 people were killed in overnight airstrikes on Rafah, and that the toll may increase as more people are still trapped under rubble.
CNN cannot independently verify the numbers. The PRCS had previously said the city was experiencing “intense targeting.”
At least two mosques and around a dozen homes were targeted in the strikes, the Rafah municipality said on Monday.
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed Monday that they conducted “a series of strikes” on targets in the area of Shaboura, a district of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.
“The strikes have concluded,” the IDF said in a statement.
Hamas condemned the strikes on Monday, calling them “forced displacement attempts” and “horrific massacres against defenseless civilians and displaced children, women, and the elderly.”
It also accused US President Joe Biden and his administration of bearing “full responsibility” for the civilian deaths.
On Sunday, Biden and Netanyahu discussed a deal to secure the release of hostages in Gaza, according to a senior administration official, as well as Israel’s anticipated ground assault on Rafah.
According to the White House, Biden “reaffirmed his view that a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there.”
Rafah has become a last refuge for Palestinians fleeing south to avoid Israel’s air and ground campaigns across the rest of the crowded enclave. More than 1.3 million people are believed to be in Rafah, the majority displaced from other parts of Gaza, according to the United Nations.
And they have no remaining escape route; the city borders Egypt, and the sole crossing into that country has been closed for months along with the rest of Gaza’s borders.
Netanyahu has brushed off mounting criticism of plans for the ground assault – saying calls not to enter Rafah are like telling Israel to lose the war. He pledged to provide safe passage for civilians, but offered few details.
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