what we know about the nighttime operation in Rafah, during which two hostages were freed

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week ordered the army to prepare an offensive on this town in southern Gaza.


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The town of Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, February 11, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Tension rose again on the night of Sunday February 11 to Monday February 12, in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip. Wedged between the sea and the border with Egypt, this city represents the last refuge for hundreds of thousands of civilians who fled the war. It also became the target of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ordered his army to prepare an offensive there on Wednesday. Hamas warned on Sunday that such an offensive “torpedo” any agreement for the release of the hostages he still holds in Gaza.

For its part, Israel affirmed in a press release that these strikes were not part of this offensive but of an operation “prepared for some time”, to recover two hostages kidnapped on October 7 during the attack carried out by the Islamist movement, the starting point of this war. Franceinfo takes stock of what we know about this operation.

Two Israeli-Argentinian hostages released

They are now free. The two Israeli-Argentinian hostages “Fernando Simon Marman, 60 years old, and Luis Har, 70 years old”, kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak are no longer in the hands of Hamas. Israel announced that it had released them and taken them to the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan for initial medical examinations. “They are in stable condition”, Arnon Afek, the director of the establishment, told the press. Before these new releases, Israel estimated that 132 hostages were still being held in Gaza, of whom 29 were believed to have died.

Fernando Simon Marman (second from left), 60, and Louis Har (right), 70, are now in Israel, after being picked up on February 12, 2024 by Israeli soldiers.  They were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, during the Hamas attack on October 7, 2023. (FRANCE TELEVISIONS)

The operation to free the two hostages began at 1:49 a.m. (12:49 a.m. Paris time) in “a building in the center of Rafah”. “A shooting took place and there was shooting from nearby buildings”reports the spokesperson for the Israeli army, Daniel Hagari, in his press release. “The air force carried out strikes. Many terrorists were killed as well as one of our soldiers”. In addition, two Israeli soldiers lost their lives in the strikes that hit the city, according to the same source, cited by the Qatari channel Al-Jazeera.

Around 100 people died overnight from Sunday to Monday in Rafah, according to Hamas

The Hamas Ministry of Health estimates, in its latest statement published Monday, the number of victims at “around 100 dead”. However, no Franceinfo source on site can support this assessment. The material damage is nevertheless significant, according to AFP.

Having become a gigantic encampment where 1.4 million Palestinians are crowded together, according to the UN, Rafah is the main entry point for humanitarian aid, insufficient to meet the needs of the population, threatened in the middle of winter by famine. and epidemics. The vast majority of people have found refuge there in recent months to try to escape the fighting and bombings in the rest of the territory. Before the conflict, the city had 280,000 inhabitants. “It’s six times more than before the war”was alarmed Juliette Touma, UNRWA communications director, on franceinfo, Friday.

Rafah is in Benjamin Netanyahu’s sights

The nighttime operation which resulted in the release of the hostages takes place in a context of growing tensions in Rafah. The city is the last urban center that the Israeli army has not yet entered. On Wednesday, the Israeli Prime Minister spoke of an operation in Rafah. He then ruled out any idea of ​​a break in the fighting. “Victory is within reach”Benyamin Netanyahu added on Sunday on the American channel ABC News, describing Rafah as “last bastion” of Hamas.

However, Israel assures that the strikes were not part of the launch of this offensive, but rather an operation to recover the two hostages. For its part, Hamas denounced, via the Reuters agency, the extension of the “genocidal war” and attempts at forced displacement by Israel against the Palestinian people.

source site-29