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Israeli forces rescue 2 hostages in Rafah, kill at least 67 Palestinians

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Jerusalem: Israel’s special forces raided Gaza’s Rafah early Monday to release two hostages, launching “waves of strikes” that killed at least 67 Palestinians, sources on both sides said.

While celebrated as heroic in Israel, the operation stirred fear in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, where more than half of the enclave’s 2.3 million residents were seeking shelter from Israeli bombardments in other parts of Gaza.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry said in an update that at least 67 people were killed overnight and dozens injured. Images and video footage broadcasted on local TV channels showed extensive damage to buildings in the area, including a mosque.

Palestinian eyewitnesses told Xinhua that Israel carried out some 40 airstrikes on the Rafah area in the early hours of Monday, with intensive ground shelling.

Suhaib Al-Hams, director of Al-Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah, told Xinhua that a large number of injured in his hospital suffered from traumatic amputations and severe burns while there is a severe shortage of medicines.

Palestinian security sources in Rafah told Xinhua that special Israeli forces secretly arrived at a building located in the Shaboura neighborhood, central of the city, and after clashes with Hamas members, the two captives were freed.

Israel Defense Forces’ Spokesman Daniel Hagari said heavy fighting between the Israeli forces and Hamas fighters ensued after the rescue, with the military employing heavy airstrikes. “There was aerial coverage and a wave of strikes by the Israeli Air Force together with the Southern Command,” he said.

Approximately 130 hostages remain in Gaza, with at least 30 reported killed, according to Israeli authorities.

The nighttime operation marked only the second instance in which Israeli forces claimed to have safely rescued hostages in Gaza, following the rescue of a female soldier last November.

The two released hostages — Louis Har, 70, and Fernando Simon Marman, 60, both of whom also hold Argentine citizenship — were airlifted to Sheba Hospital outside Tel Aviv. The hospital’s Deputy Director-General, Yael Frenkel Nir, told reporters that they underwent medical checkups and were in “good” medical condition.

Video footage released by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office showed the two at the hospital, embracing their families for the first time since being kidnapped by Hamas militants on Oct. 7, 2023, from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in southern Israel, along with about 250 others.

The overnight bombardment came as Netanyahu has been hinting at Israel’s imminent launch of a ground operation in Rafah.

On Monday, Netanyahu said that “only continued military pressure, until total victory,” could lead to the release of more hostages. Benny Gantz, a member of Netanyahu’s wartime Cabinet, affirmed that “a large-scale operation in Rafah… is not in question.”

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