According to the army, two Israeli hostages were rescued in the south of the Gaza Strip in a dramatic liberation operation under heavy fire. The Israeli military had been preparing for the operation based on intelligence for some time and was waiting for a suitable moment, said Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari.
The hostages, who were freed in a special operation in the southern Gaza Strip, have already been embraced by their families in the hospital. There are two men aged 60 and 70. Argentine President Javier Milei wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that those freed were Israeli-Argentine dual citizens.
The son-in-law of one of those freed told Israeli media that the family received the notice that night and the four adult children went straight to the hospital. Despite being held hostage for more than four months, the 70-year-old is in relatively good condition; he just looks a bit thin and pale. "He's a little shocked by all the hustle and bustle," the son-in-law told the Israeli broadcaster Kan in front of the Shiba Hospital near Tel Aviv. After their liberation, the men were taken there by helicopter. "He didn't tell so much about what had happened to him and wanted to know how we, the children and the grandchildren, were doing." He also remembered the birthdays of all his relatives.
The Israeli news site "ynet" reported that the hostages were held in a family's house in Rafah and were freed on the second floor. The liberation reportedly came amid heavy fighting and attacks in the Rafah area, in which dozens of Palestinians were killed, according to Palestinian sources.
First successful liberation
They are the first civilian hostages to be freed since the Gaza war began more than four months ago. At the end of October, Israeli special forces had already rescued a female soldier from Hamas violence. According to the military, another hostage was killed in December during a failed rescue attempt.
Israeli President Izchak Herzog wrote on Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz also thanked the special forces and said they would continue to do everything "to free all hostages from the control of the murderous terrorist organization."
Palestinians report hundreds of injuries
According to Palestinian information, dozens of Palestinians were killed in the attack on Rafah. The Hamas-controlled health authority reported at least 70 dead and more than 160 injured. The information could not initially be independently verified.
The Islamist terrorist organization Hamas spoke in a statement of "massacres" of women, children and elderly people who had previously fled from other parts of the Gaza Strip. Hamas put the number of deaths at more than 100 in the attacks.
Israel's head of government justifies the army's actions
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the country's army on Friday to prepare an offensive on Rafah. "It is impossible to achieve the war goal of eliminating Hamas if four Hamas battalions remain in Rafah," he said. The army should therefore prepare the evacuation of civilians in Rafah. In his view, the number of hostages remaining in the Gaza Strip justifies Israel's massive military action. Asked in an interview with US broadcaster ABC News how many hostages, to his knowledge, are still alive, Netanyahu replied: "I think enough to justify the efforts we are making."
Terrorists from Hamas and other extremist groups killed 1,200 people and kidnapped another 250 during their attack on Israel on October 7th. Since then, Israel's military has launched massive air strikes and a ground offensive against Hamas and its allies in Gaza. There are currently 136 people still in the hands of Hamas, but according to the Israeli military, at least around 30 of them are no longer alive. According to media reports, the number of people killed could now be as high as 50. The Israeli military said security forces would continue to try "by all means" to bring the hostages home.
Rescued hostages in hospital
The two hostages who were freed during the night were also kidnapped in the Hamas massacre on October 7th to the sealed-off coastal area on the Mediterranean, it said. They have now been taken to a hospital for a medical examination. Israel is doing its best to bring back all the living hostages, Netanyahu said in the ABC interview, "and frankly the bodies too." But he won't go into that in more detail. The two goals of defeating Hamas and saving the lives of the hostages are not mutually exclusive, the Israeli Prime Minister said.
Many relatives of the hostages accuse Netanyahu of torpedoing negotiations led by international mediators that are supposed to lead to a ceasefire in the war with Hamas and an exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners. According to the White House, US President Joe Biden's telephone conversation with Netanyahu on Sunday focused on the shared goal of defeating Hamas and ensuring the long-term security of Israel and the Israeli people. Biden also insisted on “using the progress made in negotiations (with Hamas) to ensure the release of all hostages as quickly as possible.”
UN Commissioner: Collective punishment of Palestinians violates international law
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has described the situation in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip as “terrible”. “I actually can’t think of any more words to describe the situation at the moment,” said Türk in the morning journal of the Austrian broadcaster Ö1. Today 1.4 million people live in Rafah; before the Israeli attacks began there were 300,000. The people there don't have enough to eat and many have seen family members killed. “To lead another attack in such a situation, I ask myself: What else has to happen?” said Türk.
The UN Human Rights Office views the situation with the greatest concern. “The collective punishment of the Palestinians, especially the disconnection from humanitarian aid, is a violation of international humanitarian law,” said Türk. "I have very serious concerns that what is happening before our eyes is still proportionate."
Reminder to take protective measures
In view of the announced military offensive, Germany has once again urgently called on the Israeli government to protect the Palestinian civilian population there. "We are very concerned about the situation in Rafah. There are over a million people there in a very small space, (...) who are seeking protection there from the military operations and who basically have nowhere else to go," said a spokesman of the Foreign Office. What Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock explained at the weekend applies: Before there are further major offensives on Rafah against Hamas, Israel must clearly explain "where and how these people can find protection - and effective protection."
After lawsuit: Netherlands stops arms exports for the time being
Following a court ruling, the Netherlands is no longer allowed to export spare parts for the F-35 fighter jet to Israel. A court in The Hague upheld a lawsuit brought by human rights and peace organizations. There is a great risk that Israel will violate the humanitarian law of war with the air strikes on the Gaza Strip. “Israel pays too little attention to the consequences for the civilian population when carrying out its attacks,” it continued. The court ordered the state to stop exporting the spare parts to Israel within the next seven days. The state can still appeal.
The European spare parts warehouse of the US manufacturer of the F-35 fighter jets is located at an air force base in the south of the country. Israel is also supplied from here.
The organizations Oxfam Novib, Pax Netherlands and The Rights Forum had sued the state and pointed out possible genocide and war crimes by Israel. The Dutch state is partly responsible for arms exports. The state's defender had invoked Israel's right to self-defense. A violation of the laws of war has not been proven.