Israel has launched a special forces operation to free two Israeli hostages in Rafah, following air strikes that killed 37 people and wounded dozens in the southern Gaza city.
The joint operation by the Israel Defence Force (IDF), Israel’s domestic Shin Bet security service, and the Special Police Unit in Rafah freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Hare, 70. The hostages were kidnapped by Hamas from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on October 7.
The Israeli military said the operation was complex and took place on the second floor of a building breached with an explosive charge during the raid.The air strikes caused widespread panic in Rafah as many people were asleep when the strikes started, leading some to fear Israel had begun its ground offensive into Rafah. Israeli planes, tanks, and ships participated in the strikes, with two mosques and several houses hit.
The Israeli military said it had conducted a “series of strikes” on southern Gaza that have now “concluded,” without providing further details.U.S. President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that Israel should not launch a military operation in Rafah without a credible plan to ensure the safety of the roughly 1 million people sheltering there.
Aid agencies say an assault on Rafah would be catastrophic, as it is the last relatively safe place in an enclave devastated by Israel’s military offensive.Netanyahu’s office has ordered the military to develop a plan to evacuate Rafah and destroy four Hamas battalions it says are deployed there.
Hamas-run Aqsa Television quoted a senior Hamas leader as saying any Israeli ground offensive in Rafah would “blow up” the hostage-exchange negotiations. Egypt warned of “dire consequences” of a potential Israeli military assault on Rafah, which lies near its border.