RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Israeli forces rescued two hostages early Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, storming a heavily guarded apartment in the southern 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, according to Palestinian health officials in the beleaguered territory.
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. But 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.
The plight of the hostages has profoundly shaken Israelis and the government has made freeing the dozens of remaining captives a top aim of its war, along with destroying Hamas’ military and governing capabilities. But as the fighting drags on, now in its fifth month, their freedom remains elusive and rifts have emerged in Israel over the best approach to end their ordeal.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted persistent military pressure will bring about their freedom — a position he repeated on Monday — even as other top officials have opposed this, saying a deal is the only way to secure their release.
Israel has described Rafah as the last remaining Hamas stronghold in Gaza and signaled that its ground offensive may soon target the densely populated city. On Sunday, the White House said 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 Argentinian citizenship.
They were among roughly 250 taken captive during Hamas’ stunning cross-border raid, when an estimated 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed, according to Israeli authorities. Israeli’s retaliatory air and ground offensive has killed over 28,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, displaced over 80 percent of the population and set off a massive humanitarian crisis.
Over 100 hostages were freed during a weeklong cease-fire in November. Israel says about 100 hostages remain in Hamas captivity, and Hamas also holds the remains of roughly 30 others who were either killed on Oct. 7 or died in captivity. Three hostages were mistakenly killed by the army after escaping their captors in December.
“Only the continuation of the military pressure, until total victory, will bring about the release of all of our captives,” Netanyahu said in a statement. / AP