South Asia and Beyond

Defying US, Egypt, Israel Strikes Rafah, Rescues 2 Hostages

 Defying US, Egypt, Israel Strikes Rafah, Rescues 2 Hostages

Fernando Simon Marman, one of the two hostages rescued by Israeli Special Forces from the Hamas in Rafah, with a loved one at Sheba Medical Center, in Ramat Gan, Israel, on Monday. Picture Courtesy Israel Defence Forces.

In a dramatic raid early Monday morning, Israeli forces rescued two hostages from a heavily guarded apartment in Rafah on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip bordering Egypt. Palestinian officials said at least 67 refugees including women and children were killed in strikes by Israeli aircraft supporting the rescue team.
The rescue comes hours after U.S. President Joe Biden urged Israel’s Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call on Sunday to do more to shield civilians, and not attack Rafah without a “credible and executable plan” for their safety. Egypt, which fears an influx of Palestinian refugees, threatened to suspend its 45-year-old peace treaty with Israel if Rafah was attacked.

Who are the hostages?

The freed Israeli hostages have been identified as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, who also hold Argentinian citizenship. The Argentine government thanked Israel for the rescue of the two men, who were among the 250 people abducted during the October 7 strike on Israel by Hamas militants that led to Israel’s war on Gaza. The Israeli military says 31 hostages have died since then. Three hostages were mistakenly killed by Israeli forces after escaping their captors in December.
According to the BBC, a total of 112 hostages (including the two rescued from Rafah) have now been freed. These include five Israelis freed in October, 78 Israeli women and children freed as part of a deal between Israel and Hamas during a week-long truce that ended December 31, three Russian-Israelis, (two women and a man not included in the deal), 23 Thai hostages and one Filipino freed as part of a separate deal between Hamas and the Thai government.
Following Monday’s rescue, the total number of hostages left in Gaza is 134, said Israel Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari. Of these, 130 are from the October 7 attack – with 29 of them dead and 101 believed to be alive, while the other four had been held in Gaza prior to the attack, he said. Hamas says it will not release more unless Israel ends its offensive and withdraws from Gaza. Netanyahu has rejected both demands.

Louis Har is seen with his family on Monday. IDF
Louis Har, one of the two hostages rescued by IsraeliSpecial Forces from a Hamas stronghold in Rafah, with his family on Monday. Picture courtesy Israel Defence Forces.

‘Welcome home!’

‘Welcome “Fernando and Louis, welcome home. I salute our brave fighters for the daring action that led to their release,” said Israel’s Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reiterating his belief that “ Only continued military pressure, until total victory, will bring about the release of all of our hostages. We will not miss any opportunity to bring them home.”
“Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying: ‘Lose the war, keep Hamas there,’” Netanyahu told American news channel ABC. “We are not going to let Hamas emerge victorious.”
Netanyahu, accompanied by senior government and military official, visited the Israel National Counter Terrorism Unit Monday to meet with the rescue team, and described how he approved the operation days earlier and closely monitored the rescue operation from the ISA special operations control center.
“This is a day of joy mixed with sadness: Joy over the release of our hostages and sadness over our fallen soldiers. However, I would like to tell you that the freeing of Louis and Fernando was one of the most successful rescue operations in the history of the State of Israel,” he said.
“I know that at the breakthrough moment, the gap between victory and tragedy is a millimeter,” said Netanyahu, an Israeli Special Forces veteran who took part in several operations in the lates 60s and early 70s. “At 01:40 this morning, I saw you placing the charge and seconds later I heard ‘We have the hostages.’ You eliminated the abductors, the terrorists, and made your way back without injury – a successful operation, a perfect operation.”
“I am proud of you (all)” he declared. “You worked like a well-oiled machine. You are simply the best fighters there are. I came here to tell you this and to salute you on behalf of all citizens of Israel. You are the best in the world. Well done!”

The Hamas toll

While Israel claims to have killed thousands of Hamas fighters in its counter-offensive since October 7, the Hamas run health ministry Gaza -which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians—told the Associated Press on Monday that more than 28,000 Palestinians, including at least 12,300 children and young teens and 8400 women have died in the Israeli offensive, which has also displaced over 80 per cent of the population and triggered a major humanitarian crisis.

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