U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz at the White House on Monday as Washington seeks to reach a deal for a temporary ceasefire and increase the flow of aid to Gaza.
Fernando Simon Marman, an Israeli hostage who, according to the Israeli military, was freed in a special forces operation, is pictured in this undated handout photo Bring Them Home Now/Handout via Reuters
Israel freed two Israeli-Argentinian hostages in Rafah on Monday under the cover of airstrikes which local health officials said killed 67 Palestinians and wounded dozens in the southern Gaza city that is the last refuge of about a million displaced civilians.
A joint operation by the Israeli military, the domestic Shin Bet security service and the Special Police Unit in Rafah freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Hare, 70, the military said.
The two men were kidnapped by Hamas from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on Oct. 7, the military said, among some 250 people who Israel says were seized during the militant raid that triggered its war on Gaza.
"We've been working a long time on this operation," Israeli military spokesman Lt Col. Richard Hecht said. "We were waiting for the right conditions."
The hostages were being held on the second floor of a building that was breached with explosives during the raid, which saw heavy exchanges of gunfire with surrounding buildings, Hecht said. A photograph released to media showed them in hospital, sitting on a sofa alongside relatives.
The Argentinian government thanked Israel for the rescue of the two men, who it said were dual nationals of Argentina.
Israel's military said its air strikes had coincided with the raid to allow its forces to be extracted.
The Gaza health ministry said 67 people had been killed and the number could rise as rescue operations were under way. A photograph from the scene showed a vast area of rubble where buildings had been destroyed.
Palestinians in Rafah said two mosques and several houses were hit in more than an hour of strikes by Israeli warplanes, tanks and ships, causing widespread panic among people who had been asleep.
"It was the worst night since we arrived in Rafah last month. Death was so near as shells and missiles landed 200 meters from our tent camp," said Gaza businessman Emad, a father of six, told Reuters using a chat app.
Some feared Israel had begun a long-feared ground offensive in the city, where more than a million people displaced by Israel's war on Hamas are sheltering with nowhere else to go.
"Everyone said it was a surprise ground attack. My family and I said our last prayers," Emad said.
A relative of one of the hostages said he had seen both freed men in hospital and found them "a bit frail, a bit thin, a bit pale" but overall in good condition.
Idan Bejerano, son-in-law of Hare, said that the hostages had both been sleeping when "within a minute" the commandos were in the building and covering them as they fought the captors.
They were being treated in Israel's Sheba hospital, its director Prof Arnon Afek said.
Hamas said the attack on Rafah was a continuation of a "genocidal war" and forced displacement attempts Israel has waged against the Palestinian people.
Hamas militants killed 1,200 people in southern Israel and abducted at least 250 in their Oct. 7 incursion, according to Israeli tallies. Israel has responded with a military assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the enclave.
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Emily Rose
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