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Raid on Rafah rescues 2 Israelis detained by Hamas

By Najib Jobain, Josef Federman and Samy Magdy | Associated Press

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Israeli forces rescued two hostages Monday morning, storming a heavily guarded apartment in a densely populated Gaza Strip town as airstrikes carried out to cover up the raid killed more than 60 Palestinians , including women and children.

The rescue of Rafah briefly boosted the morale of Israelis shaken by the fate of the dozens of hostages held by Hamas. The nation is still reeling from the militant group’s cross-border raid last year that sparked the war.

The nighttime bombardment devastated Rafah, home to around 1.4 million people, most of whom fled their homes elsewhere in the Gaza Strip to escape the fighting. Associated Press images showed a vast area of ​​razed houses, tattered tents and rows of bloodied bodies taken to nearby hospitals.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians in the territory, displaced more than 80% of the population and triggered a massive humanitarian crisis.

More than 12,300 Palestinian children and young adolescents have been killed in the conflict, the Gaza Health Ministry announced on Monday. Around 8,400 women were also among those killed. This means that children and young adolescents account for around 43% of deaths, and women and minors together account for three-quarters.

The ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians, provided the detail at the AP’s request. Israel claims to have killed around 10,000 Hamas fighters but has provided no proof.

In the Hamas cross-border raid on October 7, around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and the militants captured 250 people, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel has described Rafah as the last Hamas stronghold in the territory and signaled that its ground offensive could soon target the town on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip.

Israel says around 100 hostages are still being held by Hamas after dozens were freed during a ceasefire in November. Hamas also holds the remains of around 30 other people who were killed on October 7 or died in captivity.

The government has made the release of the hostages a priority objective of its war, as has the destruction of Hamas’s military and government capabilities. But as the fighting has dragged on, divisions have emerged in Israel over how to get them back.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said continued military pressure would allow the captives’ release, even as the hostages’ families and many of their supporters called on the government to reach another deal with Hamas.

A DRAMATIC RAID

Israeli army 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 by a minute later of airstrikes on surrounding areas. He said Hamas militants guarded the captives and rescue team members shielded the hostages with their bodies as the battle broke out.

The army identified the rescued people as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, who were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on October 7. They also hold Argentinian nationality. They are among three hostages to be rescued; a female soldier was rescued in November.

The rescue, which Hagari said was based on accurate intelligence and planned for some time, is a morale booster for Israelis but a small step toward freeing the remaining hostages, who are believed to be scattered and hidden in tunnels.

Har’s son-in-law, Idan Begerano, who saw the released captives at the hospital where they were flown, said the two men were thin and pale, but communicated well and were aware of their surroundings.

Begerano said Har told him immediately after seeing him: “You have a birthday today, mazal tov. » The men shared a long, tearful embrace with their loved ones at the hospital, according to a video released by Netanyahu’s office.

DOZENS KILLED IN STRIKES

The airstrikes hit crowded Rafah in the middle of the night and dozens of explosions were heard around 2 a.m. Ashraf al-Qidra, a health ministry spokesman, said at least 67 people, including women and children, were killed in the operation. strikes.

Al-Qidra said rescuers were still searching through the rubble. An Associated Press journalist counted at least 50 bodies at Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital in Rafah.

Mohamed Zoghroub, a Palestinian living in Rafah, said he saw a black jeep speeding through the town, followed by clashes and heavy airstrikes.

“We found ourselves running with our children, because of the airstrikes, in all directions,” he said, speaking from an area razed by bombing.

Images circulating on social media from the Kuwaiti Rafah hospital showed dead or injured children. The images could not immediately be verified but were consistent with AP reporting.

A young man could be seen carrying the body of an infant who he said had been killed during the attacks. He said the girl, his neighbor’s daughter, was born and killed during the war.

“Let Netanyahu come and see: is this one of your designated targets? he said.

CONCERNS ABOUT RAFAH

Netanyahu said sending ground troops to Rafah was essential to achieving Israel’s war goals. On Sunday, the White House said President Joe Biden had warned Netanyahu that Israel should not conduct a military operation there without a “credible and enforceable” plan to protect civilians.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now crowded into Rafah, where hundreds of thousands live in vast tent camps and crowded UN shelters.

Biden’s remarks, made in a phone call with Netanyahu, were his strongest language yet on a possible operation.

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