The Israeli military said they rescued two hostages in the Gaza Strip early Monday, a small but significant success in their mission to bring them home. a hundred captives, which are believed to be held by the armed group Hamas.
The hostages were freed in an operation that included Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, the city in the southern Gaza Strip where 1.4 million Palestinians fled to escape fighting in the rest of the territory during the war, which continues between Israel and Hamas. At least seven people died.
Israel has described Rafah as Hamas’ last stronghold in Gaza after more than four months of war and indicated that its ground offensive could soon target the major city. The White House said Sunday that the president of the United States, Joe Biden, warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel should not conduct a military operation against Hamas in Rafah without a “credible and enforceable” plan to protect civilians.
The army identified the rescued hostages as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70. He said the two were kidnapped by Hamas militants in the Nir Yizhak kibbutz during the October 7 cross-border attack, which caused the war between Israel and Hamas. Both were evacuated by air to Sheba Hospital in central Israel and are reported to be in good physical condition. They were the only second- and third-generation hostages to escape safely. A female soldier was rescued in November.
Monday’s attack 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 “accurate information” and that the location, located on the second floor of a building, had been under surveillance for a long time. He said Netanyahu met with the army chief and other senior officials as the operation continued.
Hamas militants killed approximately 1,200 people and kidnapped another 250 in an attack on October 7. An Israeli air and ground offensive killed about 28,000 Palestinians, according to local sources and the health authority, which lost 80% of the population and caused a huge humanitarian crisis.
About 100 hostages were released during a week-long ceasefire in November. Israel said there was something left—another 100 hostages—and that Hamas has the remains of about 30 dead who died on October 7 or in captivity. The military mistakenly killed three hostages after they escaped from their captors last December.
The remaining hostages are believed to be scattered and hiding in the tunnels, possibly in poor condition. The rescue was a moral boost for the Israelis, but a small step towards achieving the release of all captives.
Israel made the return of all hostages one of the main goals of the war. Netanyahu has vowed to continue the military offensive until a “total victory” that also includes destroying Hamas’ military and governance capabilities.