Israeli forces rescue 2 hostages in Rafah and hammer crowded city

TEL AVIV — Israel’s military hailed the rescue of two hostages overnight in Rafah, while local officials said the raid killed dozens of people in the crowded, southern Gaza Strip city sheltering more than 1 million displaced people.

At least 67 people were killed in Israeli strikes, Palestinian Health Ministry spokesperson Dr. Ashraf Al-Qudra said. An NBC News crew that has been working on the ground in Gaza since the start of the war described the bombing in the area of Shaboura camp of Rafah as a strikingly violent and deadly assault.

The dramatic rescue of Fernando Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, came amid mounting international concerns over a planned Israeli ground assault on Rafah.

Israeli forces retrieved the two Israeli men taken captive during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in a “complex” overnight operation carried out “under fire in the heart of Rafah,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said.

Hostages Fernando Simon Marman, right, and Luis Har, second from left, hug relatives after being rescued from captivity in the Gaza Strip, at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024.
Freed hostages Fernando Simon Marman, right, and Luis Har, second from left, hug relatives after being rescued from captivity in the Gaza Strip, at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, on Monday.Israeli army via AP

The operation included a “wave of strikes” to help “enable the force’s disengagement” and strike Hamas operatives in the area, he said.

The strikes set off widespread panic, according to the NBC News crew, with crowds racing to take loved ones, including children, to the Kuwait Hospital.

The IDF had confirmed overnight that its forces conducted strikes in the area of Shaboura.

Wounded Palestinians in Rafah
A wounded boy is treated at the Kuwait Hospital in Rafah on Monday. NBC News

Asked to comment on the number of people Gazan health officials said had been killed in the raid, the IDF said Monday morning that it could not confirm statistics provided by Palestinian health authorities as it does not find those authorities “reliable.”

Hagari said that Israeli forces had been preparing for the overnight operation “for some time” and that it was executed based on highly sensitive intelligence.

The IDF spokesman described how special forces breached a building “in the heart of Rafah” before locating Har and Marman on the second floor, where they were being held by armed Hamas militants.

A battle ensued, he said, with “heavy exchanges of fire at several locations simultaneously.” Around the same time, he said, aerial fire was deployed in the area by the Israeli air force and Southern Command.

In a separate statement, the IDF, the Israeli Security Agency and Israel Police said both Har and Marman were in good medical condition and had been transferred for examination at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv.

Hospital officials confirmed to NBC News that the two men were receiving care there, while a photo released by Israeli officials showed them reuniting with loved ones at the medical facility.

“Fernando and Luis — Welcome back home,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Monday morning.

Hamas, meanwhile, condemned Israel’s operations in Rafah.

Israel’s offensive in Gaza has so far seen more than 28,000 people killed and and more than 67,700 injured, with thousands more missing and presumed dead, according to Palestinian health authorities.

And in recent days, concerns have mounted over Israel’s plans to launch a ground assault on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s roughly 2.3 million people have sought shelter after the Israeli military previously declared the city bordering Egypt a safe zone.

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