Israel conducted a rescue operation on Monday (12 Feb) in Rafah, freeing two Israeli-Argentine hostages held by Hamas.
The operation resulted in the death of 74 Palestinians in the southern Gaza city, where around one million civilians sought refuge from months of bombardments.
The rescue operation occurred despite U.S. President Joe Biden’s call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay any invasion into Rafah until a plan was in place to prevent massive civilian casualties.
The fear of a major Israeli ground offensive into Rafah, where many refugees gathered, added to the tensions.
Early Monday morning (11 Feb), the Israeli military confirmed a series of strikes on southern Gaza targeting “terror targets in the area of Shaboura,” a district in Rafah, which concluded the operation.
Two hostages, Fernando Simon Marman (60) and Louis Hare (70) were rescued from the captivity of militants in Rafah during the mission, involving the Israeli military, Shin Bet security service, and a special police unit.
Both hostages were seized during the 7 October raid on Israel by Hamas militants, triggering the ongoing war on Gaza.
Netanyahu expressed determination to continue such rescue operations despite the high death toll.
He emphasized the need for continued military pressure until achieving “total victory” for the release of all hostages.
The situation in Rafah remains tense, with heavy bombing causing widespread panic.
The city, near the southern border with Egypt, has been a refuge for Palestinians fleeing Israel’s offensive and military advances.
An estimated 1.4 million Palestinians in the region have been displaced by Israel’s campaign against Hamas, leading to significant destruction in the densely populated strip of land on the Mediterranean.
Gaza health officials reported 28,340 Palestinians have been killed and 67,984 wounded, with many believed to be buried under rubble.
While the Israeli military stated that 31 hostages died during the conflict, Netanyahu emphasized the importance of military pressure and dismissed international concerns about plans for a ground assault on Rafah.
Intense Israeli ground offensive in Rafah raises concerns for Palestine civilians
In Rafah, where most Palestinians sought refuge, people were crowded into tents, makeshift shelters, schools, or hospital grounds, repeatedly uprooted by Israeli evacuation orders during the four months of ongoing conflict.
The Palestinian foreign ministry in the West Bank condemned Israel’s ongoing “mass massacres” in Gaza, accusing Israel of deliberately targeting civilians in Rafah to force displacement under bombardment.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates// The occupation's #massacre in Rafah is evidence of the validity of warnings about the catastrophic dangers of its invasion.
Netanyahu commits mass massacres with a mentality of revenge, not victory and not in accordance with… pic.twitter.com/cbuS7iaZr9
— State of Palestine – MFA 🇵🇸🇵🇸 (@pmofa) February 12, 2024
Israeli military spokesperson Lt Col Richard Hecht described the operation in Rafah as “complex” and long-planned, waiting for the right conditions.
Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, another IDF spokesperson, emphasized the complexity of the rescue operation in the heart of Rafah, based on sensitive intelligence.
Netanyahu’s office announced plans to evacuate Rafah and destroy four Hamas battalions deployed there on Friday (9 Feb).
In an interview, Netanyahu defended Israel’s war, stating that enough of the 132 remaining Israeli hostages held in Gaza were alive to justify the conflict.
A senior Hamas leader, quoted by Hamas-run Aqsa Television, has warned that any Israeli ground offensive in Rafah could jeopardize ongoing hostage exchange negotiations.
Egypt, having reinforced its border with the city, issued a warning on Sunday (11 Feb) about the potential dire consequences of an Israeli military assault on Rafah.
The Egyptian foreign ministry called for the necessity of uniting international and regional efforts to prevent the targeting of the Palestinian city.
— Egypt MFA Spokesperson (@MfaEgypt) February 11, 2024
Expressing concern, World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized the need for a ceasefire in Gaza, particularly in light of recent attacks on Rafah, where a majority of Gaza’s population has sought refuge from destruction.
Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Mr Ghebreyesus highlighted that only 15 out of 36 hospitals in Gaza are still partially or minimally functioning, underscoring the urgent humanitarian situation.
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