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Middle East crisis live: two Israeli hostages freed amid Rafah strikes that officials say killed at least 50 Palestinians


Israel rescues two hostages as airstrikes hit Rafah

Israel carried out a special forces operation that freed two Israeli hostages in Rafah while striking the southern city.

Local health officials from the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry say airstrikes early on Monday killed 37 people and wounded dozens. The bombing caused widespread panic in Rafah as people were asleep when they started, according to residents contacted by Reuters using a chat app. Some feared Israel had begun its ground offensive into Rafah.

Israeli planes, tanks and ships took part in the strikes, with two mosques and several houses hit, according to residents.

A joint operation by the Israel Defence Force (IDF), Israel’s domestic Shin Bet Security Service and the Special Police Unit in Rafah freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Hare, 70, the Israeli military said.

This photo provided by the Israeli military shows an Israeli air force helicopter carrying two released hostages, at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel on Monday. Photograph: AP

The two men, who were kidnapped by Hamas from Nir Yitzhak kibbutz during the 7 October attacks were said to be in a good condition and taken to the Tel Hashomer Medical Complex, the military said.

“It was a very complex operation,” Israeli military spokesperson Lt Col. Richard Hecht said. “We’ve been working a long time on this operation. We were waiting for the right conditions,” reports Reuters.

The hostages were being held on the second floor of a building that was breached with an explosive charge during the raid, which saw heavy exchanges of gunfire with surrounding buildings, Hecht said.

At the same time, an airstrike was carried out to allow the forces to be extracted, he said.

US President Joe Biden told prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that Israel should not launch a full military operation in Rafah without a credible plan to ensure the safety of the roughly 1 million people sheltering there, the White House said.

Key events

Summary of the day so far

It’s 9:10am in Gaza and Tel Aviv and here are the latest developments:

  • Hospital officials in Rafah say at least 50 people have been killed in the Israeli airstrikes that accompanied a hostage rescue operation, according to Associated Press. Dr Marwan al-Hams, director of the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital, said Monday the dead included women and children. An Associated Press journalist also counted the bodies brought to hospital.

  • The bombing in Rafah caused widespread panic in Rafah as people were asleep when they started, according to residents contacted by Reuters using a chat app. Some feared Israel had begun its ground offensive into Rafah. Israeli planes, tanks and ships took part in the strikes, with two mosques and several houses hit, according to residents.

  • A joint operation by the Israel Defence Force (IDF), Israel’s domestic Shin Bet Security Service and the Special Police Unit in Rafah freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Hare, 70, the Israeli military said.

  • Har’s son-in-law, Idan Bergerano, has told Israel’s Channel 13 TV that he and his wife were able to see the released captives at the hospital, according to Associated Press.

  • Reuters is reporting that Hamas said in a statement that the strikes are a continuation of the ‘genocidal war’ and the forced displacement attempts Israel has waged against the Palestinian people.

  • Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, suggested that “enough” of the 130 or so remaining Israeli hostages held in Gaza are alive to justify Israel’s ongoing war in the region. Asked how many of the hostages are still alive, Netanyahu said “enough to warrant the kind of efforts that we’re doing”. “We’re going to try to do our best to get all those who are alive back and, frankly, also the bodies of the dead,” he said in an interview with ABC’s This Week programme. Israel has previously said it believes 31 of the 136 hostages being held in Gaza are dead.

  • Separately, Netanyahu told Fox News Sunday he had not spoken to Joe Biden since the US president made remarks earlier this week about Israel’s military response in Gaza being “over the top”. The comments come as Israel faces growing international warnings over its planned offensive in Rafah.

  • US president Joe Biden is hosting Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Washington Monday. The two leaders are expected to discuss the ongoing effort to free hostages held in Gaza, and growing concern over a possible Israeli military operation in the port city of Rafah, Associated Press reports.

  • New Zealand has urged Israel to rethink a planned offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, according to reports from Australian Associated Press. On Monday afternoon, New Zealand prime minister Chris Luxon said: Palestinian civilians cannot pay the price of Israel trying to defeat Hamas …There are 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah at the moment. We are extremely concerned about that. The UK, Germany, EU and Egypt are among those to issue similar statements of concern.

  • Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip over the past few days have killed two Israeli hostages and seriously injured eight others, Hamas’ armed-wing Al Qassam Brigades said over the group’s Telegram channel.

  • Any Israeli ground offensive in Rafah on the Gaza border will “blow up” the hostage exchange negotiations, Hamas-run Aqsa television channel quoted a senior Hamas leader as saying.

  • Israeli forces have discovered a tunnel network hundreds of metres long and running partly under the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine’s (UNRWA) Gaza headquarters, the military said, calling it new evidence of Hamas exploitation of the main relief agency for Palestinians.

  • The cousin of a six-year-old Palestinian girl who died in Gaza after her family’s car appeared to come under fire from Israeli tanks has told how he spoke to her as she waited to be rescued and said he was haunted by her last words.

  • A vessel has reported coming under a missile attack off Yemen’s southern coast on Monday while transiting the strategic Bab al-Mandeb strait, security agencies have told Agence France-Presse.

  • The US military said it struck more devices and missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen that were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea.

A vessel has reported coming under a missile attack off Yemen’s southern coast on Monday while transiting the strategic Bab al-Mandeb strait, security agencies have told Agence France-Presse.

The incident occurred before 0400 local time (0100 GMT) in an area where Houthi rebels have repeatedly targeted Red Sea shipping in recent months, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said in a report.

“The crew are reported safe and the vessel is proceeding to next port of call,” UKMTO said.

Another security firm, Ambrey, said the Marshall Islands-flagged, Greece-owned bulk carrier “was targeted by missiles in two separate incidents” within 20 minutes and “was reportedly hit and sustained physical damage on the starboard side”.

The vessel had a private armed security team on board, Ambrey said.

At least 50 killed in Israeli strikes on Rafah, say hospital officials

Hospital officials in Rafah say at least 50 people have been killed in the Israeli airstrikes that accompanied a hostage rescue operation, according to Associated Press.

Dr Marwan al-Hams, director of the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital, said Monday the dead included women and children. An Associated Press journalist also counted the bodies brought to hospital.

The Israeli military said it rescued two hostages held in the territory in a raid that was backed up by Israeli strikes.

This is a developing story and we will bring you more when we have it

We’ve also had some images come in after the rescue of two Israeli hostages that were being held in Rafah by Hamas.

A helicopter ferrying Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Hare, according to the IDF, arrives at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv. Photograph: Israel Defense Forces/Reuters
These are pictures of Fernando Simon Marman (left) and Louis Hare (right) before they were taken during the 7 October attacks. The Israeli military says they have now been freed in a special forces operation. Composite: Bring Them Home/Reuters
A woman in Tel Aviv takes a photo of a poster of Louis Hare, one of the two hostages rescued. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

Here are some of the latest images coming to us from Rafah in the wake of those Israeli strikes on the southern city:

A member of the Palestinian Civil Defence works at the site of Israeli strikes in Rafah. Photograph: Palestinian Civil Defence/Reuters
Attempts to put out a fire in the aftermath. Photograph: Palestinian Civil Defence/Reuters
A member of the Palestinian Civil Defence looks under the rubble. Photograph: Palestinian Civil Defence/Reuters

New Zealand has urged Israel to rethink a planned offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, according to reports from Australian Associated Press.

On Monday afternoon, New Zealand prime minister Chris Luxon said:

Palestinian civilians cannot pay the price of Israel trying to defeat Hamas …

There are 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah at the moment. We are extremely concerned about that.

The UK, Germany, EU and Egypt are among those to issue similar statements of concern.

There is a discrepancy in the death toll being reported after the Israeli strikes in Rafah.

Israel launched a special forces operation that freed two Israeli hostages in Rafah amid airstrikes early on Monday.

Reuters is quoting local health officials as saying 37 people were killed and dozens wounded in the southern Gaza city.

Meanwhile Associated Press is quoting local hospital officials, who say the death toll is at least 16 Palestinians killed and 55 wounded in the overnight airstrikes.

Jordan’s King Abdullah expected in Washington for talks with Biden

US president Joe Biden is hosting Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Washington Monday.

The two leaders are expected to discuss the ongoing effort to free hostages held in Gaza, and growing concern over a possible Israeli military operation in the port city of Rafah, Associated Press reports.

It is the first meeting between the allies since three American troops were killed last month in a drone strike against a US base in Jordan. Biden blamed Iran-backed militias for the fatalities.

It was reported by Reuters earlier that King Abdullah participated in an airdrop of humanitarian aid to Gaza, according to the state-owned Al Mamlaka broadcaster.

A video showed the monarch in military gear on board a plane in the latest mission by the Jordanian air force to drop urgent medical supplies to field hospitals it runs in the war-torn territory. According to official media, the latest airdrop was on 6 February.

Updated at 

Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Har have been named as the two hostages rescued.

Har’s son-in-law, Idan Bergerano, has told Israel’s Channel 13 TV that he and his wife were able to see the released captives at the hospital, according to Associated Press.

He said the two men appeared thin and pale, but were communicating well and aware of their surroundings.

Bergernano said Har told him immediately upon seeing him: “You have a birthday today, mazal tov.”

הותר לפרסום כי במבצע משותף של צה”ל, שב”כ ומשטרת ישראל (ימ”מ) ברפיח, חולצו הלילה שני חטופים ישראלים, פרננדו סימון מרמן (60) ולואיס הר (70) אשר נחטפו על ידי חמאס לרצועת עזה מניר יצחק ב-7/10>> pic.twitter.com/SOVNoiRWqI

— צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) February 12, 2024

Hamas has commented on the Israeli strikes in Rafah

Reuters is reporting that Hamas said in a statement that the strikes are a continuation of the ‘genocidal war’ and the forced displacement attempts Israel has waged against the Palestinian people.

The Israeli military says it has rescued two hostages during the strikes. Israeli military spokesperson Lt Col. Richard Hecht said an airstrike was carried out to allow the forces to be extracted after the rescue, according to Reuters.

Monday’s raid included at least 15 airstrikes, flares and Apache helicopter fire, witnesses told Associated Press. It was not clear how many of the strikes were linked to the hostage rescue.

Hecht said the operation was based on “precise intelligence,” and that the site, located on the second floor of a building, had been watched for some time.

He said Netanyahu joined Israel’s military chief and other top officials as the raid unfolded.

Updated at 

Israel rescues two hostages as airstrikes hit Rafah

Israel carried out a special forces operation that freed two Israeli hostages in Rafah while striking the southern city.

Local health officials from the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry say airstrikes early on Monday killed 37 people and wounded dozens. The bombing caused widespread panic in Rafah as people were asleep when they started, according to residents contacted by Reuters using a chat app. Some feared Israel had begun its ground offensive into Rafah.

Israeli planes, tanks and ships took part in the strikes, with two mosques and several houses hit, according to residents.

A joint operation by the Israel Defence Force (IDF), Israel’s domestic Shin Bet Security Service and the Special Police Unit in Rafah freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Hare, 70, the Israeli military said.

This photo provided by the Israeli military shows an Israeli air force helicopter carrying two released hostages, at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel on Monday. Photograph: AP

The two men, who were kidnapped by Hamas from Nir Yitzhak kibbutz during the 7 October attacks were said to be in a good condition and taken to the Tel Hashomer Medical Complex, the military said.

“It was a very complex operation,” Israeli military spokesperson Lt Col. Richard Hecht said. “We’ve been working a long time on this operation. We were waiting for the right conditions,” reports Reuters.

The hostages were being held on the second floor of a building that was breached with an explosive charge during the raid, which saw heavy exchanges of gunfire with surrounding buildings, Hecht said.

At the same time, an airstrike was carried out to allow the forces to be extracted, he said.

US President Joe Biden told prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that Israel should not launch a full military operation in Rafah without a credible plan to ensure the safety of the roughly 1 million people sheltering there, the White House said.

Welcome and opening summary

It’s 6:58am in Gaza and Tel Aviv. I’m Reged Ahmad and welcome to our latest blog on the continuing Middle East crisis, I’ll be with you for the next while.

Israel has carried out a special forces operation into Rafah that’s freed two Israeli hostages amid airstrikes, early on Monday. The airstrikes caused widespread panic in Rafah as many people were asleep when they started, Reuters reports.

Local health officials say 37 people were killed and dozens wounded in the southern Gaza city – which has been described as a ‘safe’ zone in the past.

More on that in a moment but first, here’s a summary of the main developments so far:

  • Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, suggested that “enough” of the 130 or so remaining Israeli hostages held in Gaza are alive to justify Israel’s ongoing war in the region. Asked how many of the hostages are still alive, Netanyahu said “enough to warrant the kind of efforts that we’re doing”. “We’re going to try to do our best to get all those who are alive back and, frankly, also the bodies of the dead,” he said in an interview with ABC’s This Week programme. Israel has previously said it believes 31 of the 136 hostages being held in Gaza are dead.

  • Separately, Netanyahu told Fox News Sunday he had not spoken to Joe Biden since the US president made remarks earlier this week about Israel’s military response in Gaza being “over the top”. The comments come as Israel faces growing international warnings over its planned offensive in Rafah.

  • The UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, said he was “deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah – over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering in the area”.

  • Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip over the past few days have killed two Israeli hostages and seriously injured eight others, Hamas’ armed-wing Al Qassam Brigades said over the group’s Telegram channel.

  • Any Israeli ground offensive in Rafah on the Gaza border will “blow up” the hostage exchange negotiations, Hamas-run Aqsa television channel quoted a senior Hamas leader as saying.

  • Israeli forces have discovered a tunnel network hundreds of metres long and running partly under the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine’s (UNRWA) Gaza headquarters, the military said, calling it new evidence of Hamas exploitation of the main relief agency for Palestinians.

  • The cousin of a six-year-old Palestinian girl who died in Gaza after her family’s car appeared to come under fire from Israeli tanks has told how he spoke to her as she waited to be rescued and said he was haunted by her last words.

  • The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said Israeli forces have prevented oxygen from reaching the al-Amal hospital for over a week, resulting in the deaths of three patients. The PRCS said Israel has also not provided medical equipment, and continues to block the delivery of fuel for the hospital’s electricity generators, despite the fuel supply running out in two days, risking a shutdown. The IDF has now posted on its X account that it has allowed oxygen through.

  • A total of 28,176 Palestinians have been killed and 67,784 have been injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since 7 October, the Gaza health ministry said in a statement on Sunday. An estimated 112 Palestinians were killed and 173 injured in the past 24 hours, the ministry added.

  • The US military said it struck more devices and missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen that were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea.





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