Under Cover of Night, Israeli Forces Rescue Two Hostages in a Daring Raid in Gaza

A rare bit of good news emerges with an astounding rescue from the war, even as more combat looms.

AP/Ariel Schalit
A picture of rescued hostage Louis Har hangs on a wall at Tel Aviv, February 12, 2024. AP/Ariel Schalit

The dramatic rescue under fire of two hostages early Monday, freed by Israeli forces in a heavily guarded apartment in the southern Gaza Strip, represents a modest but symbolically significant success for the Jewish state. 

To assist the rescue forces, heavy airstrikes pounded the area near the apartment in Rafah, a city on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip where 1.4 million Palestinians have fled to escape fighting elsewhere in the ongoing war against the Hamas terrorist group.

The raid is being celebrated in Israel as a victory in the sluggish battle to free the hostages, with more than 100 captives still held by Hamas and other Gaza terrorists, and briefly lifted the spirits of a nation still reeling from Hamas’s deadly cross-border rampage last year. An unspecified number of Palestinians, some likely members of Hamas, were reportedly killed or wounded in the rescue operation.

The army identified the rescued hostages as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, abducted by Hamas terrorists from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in the October 7 cross-border attack that triggered the war. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office said they also hold Argentinian citizenship.

Israel’s military spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said special forces broke into a second-floor apartment in Rafah under fire at 1:49 a.m. Monday, accompanied a minute later by airstrikes on surrounding areas. He said the hostages were being guarded by armed Hamas terrorists and that members of the rescue team shielded the hostages with their bodies as a heavy battle erupted in several places at once with Hamas gunmen.

The hostages were taken to a nearby “safe area,” given a quick medical check, and airlifted to Sheba Medical Center in central Israel. Their medical condition was reported to be good. They are just the second and third hostages to be rescued safely; a female soldier was rescued in November.

The rescue, which Mr. Hagari said was based on precise intelligence and planned for some time, is a morale booster for Israelis but a small step toward winning the release of the remaining hostages, who are believed to be spread out and hidden in tunnels, likely in poor condition.

They were among roughly 250 taken captive during the Hamas attacks of October 7, when an estimated 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed. The operational success of the rescue operation Monday is by no means cause for Israelis to get overconfident. A columnist for Ha’aretz, Amos Harel, warned that Hamas “will be quick to adapt” — though it is likely that Israeli officials will take that into account moving forward. 

The plight of the hostages has shaken Israelis, and the government has made freeing the dozens of remaining captives a top aim of its war, along with destroying Hamas’s military and governing capabilities. As the fighting drags on, now in its fifth month, their freedom remains elusive and rifts have emerged in Israel over the best approach to end their ordeal.

Mr. Netanyahu has insisted persistent military pressure will bring about their freedom — a position he repeated on Monday — even as other top officials have opposed this, saying a deal is the only way to secure their release.

More than 100 hostages were freed during a weeklong ceasefire in November. Israel says about 100 hostages remain in Hamas captivity, and Hamas also holds the remains of roughly 30 others who were either killed on October 7 or perished in captivity. Three hostages were mistakenly killed by the army after escaping their captors in December.

More turmoil looms at Rafah, which Israeli officials have described as the last remaining Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip. The airstrikes that backed up the Israeli forces in the hostage rescue operation hit the densely populated city in the middle of the night and dozens of explosions could be heard around 2 a.m. 

Israel signaled that its ground offensive may soon target Rafah. On Sunday, the White House said President Biden had warned Mr. Netanyahu that Israel should not conduct a military operation against Hamas in Rafah without a “credible and executable” plan to protect civilians.

The New York Sun

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