Two Israeli-Argentinian men taken captive by Hamas on October 7 were rescued on Monday in an early morning raid in which the Israeli military carried out airstrikes that local officials said killed around 100 people in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.
The hostages, 60-year-old Fernando Simon Marman and 70-year-old Louis Har, had spent 128 days in captivity. Both men are in relatively good condition and have since reunited with their families.
Israel Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari told reporters on Monday the complex rescue operation was conducted after receiving “highly sensitive and valuable intelligence.” It involved Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, police special forces and an IDF tank brigade.
The operation began at 1:49 a.m. local time, when Israeli special forces entered the building where the hostages were held. The duo were found on the second floor “in the hands of Hamas terrorists.” Hamas militants were also stationed in adjacent buildings, Hagari said.
Israel’s ground forces encountered resistance throughout the operation. Once the hostages were recovered, they were protectively hugged by members of the police special forces as they were escorted out under fire from Hamas, according to Hagari, who said they were taken to a safe place within Rafah for medical attention and then airlifted out of Gaza by helicopter.
Har and Marman’s rescue marks just the second time since last year’s terror attack that the Israeli military has successfully retrieved hostages in Gaza. In December, Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Israeli hostages in Gaza after misidentifying them as threats.
While the operation to free the two men will be celebrated in Israel, significant loss of life was reported inside Gaza as a result of the Israeli Air Force providing “aerial cover” for the ground operation.
Airstrikes began 1:50 a.m., a minute after the raid began, the IDF said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said that more than 100 people were killed in strikes in Rafah overnight, while the Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza said 94 people lost their lives. Neither group specified how many of those who died were militants.
CNN cannot independently verify either number. The discrepancy likely exists because the health ministry only updates death toll numbers after bodies have been identified. Both groups said the figure is likely to rise.
The director of Abu Yousef Al-Najjar Hospital said medical facilities in Rafah “cannot handle the large number of injuries due to the Israeli occupation’s bombardment.”
Footage obtained by CNN showed a chaotic scene inside Rafah’s Al Kuwaiti hospital, with medics trying to resuscitate a motionless child in one scene and another showing doctors treating a wounded man on the hospital floor. In another video a woman was inconsolable as she held a child’s body wrapped in white cloth.
In a video obtained by CNN from social media groups used by local Palestinian journalists, a young boy hangs lifelessly from the side of a structure as several men try to bring his body down.
A second video showed a girl wiping tears from her eyes as she described the airstrikes. “I was going to the bathroom and the strikes were ongoing. Suddenly I found fire in our house,” the girl says in the video. “Then I went to the bathroom and all the walls collapsed on me.”
The Rafah municipality said on Monday at least two mosques and around a dozen homes were struck.
The intensity of the bombardment prompted speculation that Israel might have been preparing for its anticipated ground offensive into the city, though the IDF said in a statement that the strikes have concluded. CNN has asked the IDF for clarity on whether the strikes were connected to a future ground assault.
A spokesman for the US State Department said Monday that the US does not view the strikes as “the launch of a full-scale offensive” in Rafah.