- The rescue mission of two Israeli hostages killed around 100 people in Rafah.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed “a perfect operation”.
- Aid groups and foreign governments have voiced deep concern over the potentially disastrous consequences of expanding operations in Rafah.
Israelis welcomed the rescue of two Gaza hostages, while fears of a looming ground incursion grew among more than a million Palestinians trapped in the war-ravaged territory’s densely crowded far south.
Israel’s top ally the United States said it would “not support a full-scale military operation” without protections for civilians in Rafah city, where Israeli forces freed the captives in a dramatic overnight raid.
The rare rescue mission under heavy air strikes killed around 100 people in Rafah, according to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip’s health ministry.
Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Luis Har, 70, had been held by militants since Hamas’s 7 October attack that triggered the war.
They were freed amid an intense firefight and then airlifted to a hospital where a spokeswoman said “the signs of prolonged captivity… are evident”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed “a perfect operation”, while the Palestinian foreign ministry said the deaths of dozens of Gazans amounted to a “massacre”.
With international mediators working towards a truce and a hostage-prisoner exchange, Netanyahu said that only “continued military pressure, until complete victory, will result in the release of all our hostages”.
“Luckily for us, as a family, they were saved tonight,” said Har’s son-in-law Idan Bejerano, praising the rescue of the two Argentinian-Israeli men.
“But I must say that the job is not done,” Bejerano added, urging action to free the remaining hostages.
In Rafah, Palestinian residents stood among the large bomb craters and rubble left after the intense battle.
Ibrahim Abu Jaber said he saw a building collapse, killing the “40 to 50 people — displaced people, children, elderly” inside.
“What if the actual invasion took place?” he said. “I think the martyrs would be in the thousands.”
Israel has bombarded Gaza since Hamas’ 7 October attack in which more than 1,200 people, including an estimated 30 children, were killed and over 200 hostages taken, according to the Israeli government. More than 28,340 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in Gaza since 7 October, according to the health ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
The 7 October attack was a significant escalation in the long-standing conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Weeks of talks towards a ceasefire have brought no results yet, but a source close to the negotiations told AFP plans were underway for a new meeting in Cairo on Tuesday.
The Hostages and Missing Families Forum campaign group warned that “time is running out for the remaining hostages”, urging the Israeli government to “exhaust every option on the table to release them”.
Dozens of hostages were freed by Gaza militants, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, during a one-week truce in November.
Miller said a new deal would have “tremendous” benefits for the release of further hostages but also “for the humanitarian effort in Gaza”.
Netanyahu has vowed to send ground troops into Rafah, where about 1.4 million displaced Palestinians are struggling to survive in shelters and tent camps.
Aid groups and foreign governments have voiced deep concern over the potentially disastrous consequences of expanding operations in Rafah, which they say would worsen an already dire humanitarian situation.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation reported “unprecedented levels” of “near famine-like conditions” in the besieged territory.
The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, said he was “deeply concerned by the reported bombardment and potential ground incursion by Israeli forces”.
In a statement published on X, formerly Twitter, he said his office’s investigation into the Gaza war is “being taken forward as a matter of the utmost urgency”.
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron urged Israel to “stop and think seriously before it takes any further action” in Gaza.
The United Nation’s human rights chief, Volker Turk, warned that “an extremely high number of civilians” would likely be killed or injured in a full Israeli incursion into Rafah.