DOHA/JERUSALEM: Israel launched a special forces operation that freed two Israeli hostages in Rafah amid air strikes early on Monday, which local health officials said killed 37 people and wounded dozens in the southern Gaza city.
A 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 Israeli military said.
The two men, who were kidnapped by Hamas from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on Oct. 7, were in good condition and taken to the Tel Hashomer Medical Complex, the military said.
“It was a very complex operation,” Israeli military spokesman Lt Col. Richard Hecht said. “We’ve been working a long time on this operation. We were waiting for the right conditions.”
The hostages were being held on the second floor of a building that was breached with an explosive charge during the raid, which saw heavy exchanges of gunfire with surrounding buildings, Hecht said, according to Reuters news agency.
At the same time, an air strike was carried out to allow the forces to be extracted, he said.
The air strikes caused widespread panic in Rafah as many people were asleep when the strikes started, said residents contacted by Reuters using a chat app. Some feared Israel had begun its ground offensive into Rafah.
Israeli planes, tanks and ships took part in the strikes, with two mosques and several houses hit, according to residents.
The Israeli military said on Monday it had conducted a “series of strikes” on southern Gaza that have now “concluded,” without providing further details.
Before previous assaults on Gaza cities, Israel’s military has ordered civilians to leave without preparing any specific evacuation plan.
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, the White House said.