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Israeli forces free two hostages in nighttime operation in Gaza

Photo: Mohammed Abed Agence France-Presse Children inspect the damage caused by an Israeli bombardment, in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, February 12, 2024. This city in the south of the Palestinian territory, which has become a gigantic encampment, is the last urban center where the Israeli army has not yet launched a ground assault.

Adel Zaanoun – Agence France-Presse and Nir Kafri – Agence France-Presse respectively in the Gaza Strip and Ramat Gan

10:32 a.m.

  • Middle East

Israel on Monday released two hostages held in Rafah, the final target of its offensive in the Gaza Strip, during a nighttime commando operation accompanied by deadly strikes on this city where hundreds of thousands are refugees Palestinian civilians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week ordered the army to prepare an offensive on this town in southern Gaza, where, according to the UN, 1.4 million people are massed. Palestinians who have fled the war that has been raging for four months between Israel and Hamas.

He reaffirmed Monday his determination to defeat the Palestinian Islamist movement, of which Rafah is according to him the “last bastion”, while the prospect of a ground assault on the overpopulated city raises serious concerns in the 'foreign.

“Only continued military pressure, until complete victory, will result in the release of all our hostages,” he declared.

Overnight, Israeli forces carried out a ground operation in Rafah, supported by airstrikes, to free Fernando Marman, 60, and Luis Har, 70, two Israeli-Argentinian hostages kidnapped in Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in southern Israel during the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel that sparked the war.

The Hamas Ministry of Health reported around 100 deaths in the bombings. AFP journalists heard “dozens of strikes”, of greater intensity than in recent days, in several parts of the city.

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“Around midnight, we heard loud explosions, as if hell had fallen on the civilians,” Abou Souhhaib, a resident of the al-Shaboura neighborhood, told AFP.

“We heard the sound of helicopters firing,” he added. “There was heavy gunfire, as if it was a very big battle.”

After a night under the bombs which dug huge craters in the ground, survivors searched through the rubble in the morning, terrified at the idea of ​​a ground assault on the city where they are now trapped against the closed border with Egypt.

Israeli forces burst “with explosives” into the second floor of a building where the hostages were being held, “opened fire on nearby targets and freed the hostages”, the statement said. the military and the government.

“Fire then erupted from this building and neighboring buildings followed by prolonged fighting, during which dozens of Hamas targets were targeted by airstrikes in order to allow soldiers to leave the scene,” the prime minister’s office said. minister.

“Time is running out”

The two hostages were transported by helicopter to Sheba Hospital in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv.

“We saw them […] there were a lot of tears, hugs and few words,” said Idan Bejerano, Luis Har’s son-in-law, outside the hospital.

“We are happy today but we didn’t win. This is just one more step toward bringing hostages still held in Gaza home, he said, echoing families who are pressing the government to accept a new truce deal with Hamas. including the release of the hostages.

Israel estimates that there are around 130 hostages still held in Gaza, 29 of whom are believed to be dead, out of around 250 people kidnapped in Israel on October 7. A week-long truce in November allowed the release of 105 hostages and 240 Palestinians held by Israel.

Hamas warned on Sunday that an offensive on Rafah would “torpedo” any agreement to release the hostages.

US President Joe Biden, whose country is Israel's main ally, urged Benjamin Netanyahu to “guarantee” the safety of the population before an assault.

The UK on Monday called on Israel to “think seriously” before any major offensive in Rafah.

The prime minister said on Sunday on the American channel ABC News that Israel would provide “safe passage for the civilian population so that they can leave” the city, without specifying where civilians could take refuge.

“This war can end quickly, without further suffering, if Hamas immediately surrenders, lays down its arms, releases the hostages and delivers its war criminals to a tribunal,” the spokesperson said Monday. word of the Israeli government, Eylon Levy.

“Nowhere to go”

The war was sparked on October 7 by an unprecedented attack by Hamas commandos infiltrated from Gaza into southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli data.

In retaliation, Israel vowed to “destroy” the Islamist movement, in power in Gaza since 2007, which it considers a terrorist organization along with the United States and the European Union.

The Israeli offensive has left 28,340 dead in the Gaza Strip, the vast majority of them civilians, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health, which on Monday counted 164 dead in 24 hours.< /p>

“Under current conditions,” Washington “could not support a military operation in Rafah due to the density of the population,” warned a senior American official, stressing that the population has “not nowhere to go.”

About 1.7 million people, according to the UN, out of a total of 2.4 million inhabitants, have fled their homes since October 7 in the devastated Palestinian territory, besieged by Israel and plunged into a humanitarian crisis major. Many were displaced several times, fleeing further south as the fighting spread.

The city of Rafah, which has become a gigantic encampment, is the last urban center where the Israeli army has not yet launched a ground assault and the main entry point for humanitarian aid, insufficient to meet the needs of the population threatened in the middle of winter by famine and epidemics

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116