Two Argentine-Israeli hostages held by Hamas were freed on Monday by Israeli forces in Rafah, near the Egyptian border.
Fernando Marman and Louis Har who had been kidnapped in the Nir Yitzhak kibbutz were taken by helicopter to the Sheba hospital in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, where they were admitted at 3.15 a.m., the hospital confirmed.
“Around three in the morning we got a call from Israeli authorities informing us that Fernando and Louis were back with us, that we please drive to the hospital to see them,” said Har’s son-in-law Idan Bejerano to AFP. “We were overwhelmed. We were not expecting this.”
“We saw them […] there was a lot of crying, hugs, and only a few words spoken,” said Bejerano, who added that both of them are “getting medical care, in bed.”
“They look OK, if I may say so. They are going through a series of tests, surrounded by doctors and nurses. And, most importantly, with their families,” he told the press outside the hospital.
Bejerano also reiterated the demands of other hostages’ families, who urge the Israeli government to accept a new ceasefire with Hamas that includes the release of more hostages.
The hostages were freed after a ferocious rescue operation that killed 67 Palestinians in the southern Gaza city, where about one million civilians have sought refuge from months of bombardments.
“Please, be serious! Be serious about an agreement. The Israeli people need an agreement […] as soon as possible,” said Bejerano.
Argentina’s Office of the President congratulated Israeli armed forces for “successfully conducting the rescue” through their X account.
Also on X, Israeli president Isaac Herzog greeted “everyone who brought Fernando and Luis back home in a bold rescue operation,” and promised that they will “continue to work through every means possible to bring all hostages back home.”
The Gaza health ministry said 67 Palestinians had been killed overnight and the number could rise as rescue operations were underway. A Reuters journalist at the scene saw a vast area of rubble where buildings, including a mosque, had been destroyed. Israel says many of those killed are militants; the Gaza ministry says 70% are civilians.
“I’ve been collecting my family’s body parts since the morning, said Ibrahim Hassouna, as a woman knelt over the body of a young child nearby. “I only recognized their toes or fingers.”
An Israeli military spokesman said the hostages were being held on the second floor of a building that was breached with explosives during the raid amid heavy exchanges of gunfire with surrounding buildings.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his Army to prepare an offensive on Rafah, where people displaced by the war are sheltering with nowhere else to go. Rafah currently concentrates more than half of Gaza’s population, according to the UN, which generated consternation in the international community.
Hamas warned yesterday that such an offensive would “torpedo” any agreement to release hostages but Israel stated that the bombings were not part of that offensive but of the rescue operation. The attacks hit 14 houses and three mosques in different parts of Rafah, according to the government in Gaza.
Marman and Har were among 250 people seized by the gunmen belonging to the Palestinian Islamist group governing the Gaza Strip during an incursion into southern Israel on October 7, 2023. More than four months on, much of the densely-populated strip of land on the Mediterranean is in ruins, with 28,340 Palestinians dead and 67,984 wounded, according to Gaza health officials, with many others believed to be buried under rubble.
According to Israeli authorities, before the release of these two hostages, there were 132 hostages held by Hamas, of whom 29 probably died in captivity.
A week-long truce in November freed 105 hostages in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons.
Rafah has become the last refuge for Palestinians with 1.4 million people mostly displaced by the war, cornered on the closed border with Egypt, according to the UN.