Israel saves two enemies from working Rafah

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TEL AVIV – The Israeli military rescued two hostages overnight Monday under deadly cover airstrikes on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, sending a wave of hope across Israel and fear among the 1.4 million Palestinians who have sought refuge in the area that Israeli leaders have identified as the next zone – battle in the war.

The two thievesFernando Simon Merman, 60, and Luis Har, 70, both Israeli-Argentinian dual citizens, were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on October 7. at the end of November.

The Israeli military said Merman and Har were both in “good medical condition.” They were transported via military helicopters to Israel’s Sheba Tel Hashomer Medical Center, where medical staff said their condition was “stable,” and where they were reunited with their families.

“I salute our brave heroes for their courageous action that led to their liberation,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Monday. “It is only the continuation of the military pressure until there is total victory, which will remove all our abductors. We won’t miss an opportunity to bring them home.”

Hamas called the overnight operation which saw heavy bombing across the area part of “a terrible massacre against defenseless civilians and displaced children, women and the elderly.”

At least 67 Palestinians, including women and children, were killed in the operation, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

Rear Adm. said. Daniel Hagari, Israeli military spokesman, that the rescue operation, based on extensive military intelligence, began at 1:49 am, when special forces broke into a second-floor apartment in Rafah.

“The necessary preparations were made and we were waiting for conditions that would allow him to be executed,” Hagari said in a statement on Monday morning.

Armed Hamas activists were protecting the men and were also scattered throughout the building, he said. A moment later, Israel carried out a series of airstrikes. Israeli soldiers shielded the guards with their bodies as an exchange of heavy fire erupted in several places between Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters.

Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant were with Israel’s military chief as the attack continued overnight. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting, the military said.

This incident was only the second successful rescue mission since the ground entered Gaza at the end of October – on October 30, the IDF rescued a woman above. More than 100 hostages remain in Hamas captivity as well as 29 others believed to be dead, most of them killed during the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, according to Israeli officials.

Many of the hostages’ families and thousands of Israelis who joined them in street protests have called on the government to agree to a ceasefire deal with Hamas, saying they are running out of time and question whether military action is a rational strategy. .

Argentine President Javier Milei praised the rescue operation on Monday morning and said in a social media post that in a meeting with Netanyahu last week in Jerusalem he asked “all the Argentine enemies released” and continued to “maintain his criticism of terrorist Hamas.”

The operation came a few hours after Netanyahu spoke by phone with President Biden, who warned that an Israeli ground attack into southern Gaza would be without adequate accommodation for the civilian population is seen as unacceptable to the United States, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters. on condition of anonymity under rules set by the White House.

On Monday, it was unclear how the rescue – which lasted about an hour and was limited in scope – would affect Israel’s wider stated plans to launch a major ground offensive into Rafah, where he says the main leaders of Hamas are in hiding and still keeping an estimate. 101 hostility.

Egypt has reinforced its border, saying it would not accept refugees fleeing the fighting, and has warned that an Israeli attack on the area along its border could undermine a peace deal. Israel in 1979 with Egypt which has stabilized the region for decades.

It also comes amid talks to return the hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, as well as a cessation of hostilities. Senior American, Egyptian and Qatari officials are expected to meet in Cairo on Tuesday, although it is not yet clear whether Israel will send a delegation.

On February 6, in response to the negotiators’ proposal, Hamas demanded that Israel release at least 1,500 Palestinian security prisoners, withdraw completely from Gaza, and finally agree to a ceasefire​​​​ permanent, and work to reduce their jurisdiction over the Temple Mount – demands that Netanyahu rejected as “absurd.”

In an interview with ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday, Netanyahu said that “victory is within reach,” and that the Israeli army was “working out a detailed plan” to evacuate the civilian population from Rafah .

“Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are saying that they will lose the war, keep Hamas there,” he said.

Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

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