Middle East CrisisHow Israeli Commandos Rescued 2 Hostages in Gaza

Palestinians inspecting the damage to buildings where a rescue operation took place.
The remains of the buildings where two Israeli hostages had reportedly been held in Rafah on Monday/Associated Press

Here’s what we know:

The Israeli operation succeeded, but airstrikes launched to cover the mission killed dozens, according to the Gaza health authorities.

Here is how Israel said it freed 2 hostages from Gaza.

ImageIsraeli airstrikes on Rafah, in southern Gaza, early Monday.Credit…Said Khatib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Israeli commandos reached the hide-out on foot, weaving in silence through the back streets of Hamas-controlled Rafah in the pre-dawn darkness. Their mission: Rescue two of the hostages captured on Oct. 7 during the Hamas-led raid on southern Israel that began the ongoing war in Gaza.

More than 250 people were captured that day, roughly half of whom were released in November. But in the early morning on Monday, a squad from the Israeli special forces freed two of those who had now been held hostage for more than four months: Fernando Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70.

The rescue mission was described by the Israeli military, which also released videos from the operation, which the country’s military and civilian leadership — including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — followed in real time from a command center in central Israel.

In Gaza, the rescue team’s moves went undetected.

Down a suburban side road, the squad — drawn from both a police SWAT team and the Shin Bet, Israel’s equivalent of the F.B.I. — halted outside a two-story house, its walls partly obscured by a tree, drone footage later showed.

At around 1:50 a.m., some of the commandos fixed a small explosive to the front door and blasted it open, according an Israeli military spokesman, Maj. Nir Dinar. Footage showed the commandos — numbering roughly a dozen — hurrying inside in single file.

After rushing up the stairs to a second-floor apartment, the commandos located Mr. Marman and Mr. Har within seconds, Major Dinar said.

Evacuating them would prove harder and take longer.

Almost immediately, the rescue team began taking fire from inside and outside the building, starting a gun battle that lasted for several minutes, Major Dinar said. Within a few moments, the Israeli Air Force began striking the area around the house, as well as other parts of Rafah.

Israel’s goal with the strikes, Major Dinar said, was to hit Hamas military command centers, confuse the militants, sever contact between the hostages’ captors and their commanders, and provide cover for the escape.

The explosions across the city lit up the night sky, terrifying the roughly 1 million Gazans who had fled there to escape fighting further north. The blasts were so bright, one refugee said, that the sky seemed closer to day than night.

Health officials in Gaza said nearly 70 people were killed. Video verified by The New York Times showed a mosque ablaze following the strikes.

Three Hamas captors were killed as the Israeli rescue team fought its way out of the building, Major Dinar said. One SWAT officer was lightly injured.

Drone footage showed the group hurrying down the street and away from the building in single file. They soon met up with members of Israel’s 7th Brigade, who escorted the team and the freed hostages back toward the front line. A helicopter flown by Shayetet 13, an Israeli unit akin to the Navy SEALs, flew the hostages to safety in Israel.

After 128 days in captivity, they were free.

“Welcome back,” one commando said in footage filmed on the helicopter. “How are you guys? How are you feeling?”

“Shocked,” one of the hostages is heard replying. “Shocked, all right.”

Health officials in Gaza say dozens were killed in airstrikes carried out during the raid.

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Injured Palestinians were rushed to a hospital in Rafah, after Israel launched a “wave of attacks” to create cover for an operation to free two hostages held by Hamas according to the Israeli military.

Israeli special operations forces raided a building in the southern Gazan city of Rafah early Monday to free two hostages held by Hamas, the military said, as Israel launched a wave of attacks overnight that killed dozens of Palestinians in Rafah, according to the Gazan health ministry.

The operations were met with elation in Israel, and grief and foreboding in the Gaza Strip, where more than a million Palestinians have crowded into Rafah, fleeing their homes and seeking refuge from Israeli military actions farther north. Palestinians feared the raid — and the accompanying death toll — portended a more prolonged Israeli operation to capture Rafah.

The nighttime rescue operation marked only the second time Israeli forces said they had rescued captives in Gaza since the war began in October. The fate of more than 100 hostages captured at the start of the war on Oct. 7 has become one of the country’s highest priorities, along with the defeat of Hamas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has signaled that Israeli ground forces will enter Rafah with the goal of eliminating Hamas battalions there, though the precise timing is unclear. The prospect of street battles inside the crowded city, which is bracketed by a closed Egyptian border, has created worldwide alarm over the risks to civilians who say they have nowhere else to flee.

The hostage rescue showed Israel’s determination to press ahead with its offensive despite criticism from the United States and other allies, and pressure to reduce civilian casualties and destruction. President Biden on Thursday called Israel’s campaign “over the top” and said the suffering of innocent people has “got to stop.”

At 1:49 a.m. on Monday, Israeli special forces soldiers broke into a building where the two hostages were being held, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the military’s chief spokesman, said at a news conference. About a minute later, Israeli forces fired on nearby buildings in an effort to disrupt Hamas’s communications and to allow the soldiers to safely bring the hostages out, he said. He also said that Israeli warplanes had fired on Hamas targets in the area.

Drone footage later released by the Israeli military appeared to show roughly a dozen Israeli troops entering a building by foot from a street lined with detached and flat-roofed houses. Other footage showed a blast at the building next door, caused by what the Israeli military said was an Israeli strike.

Images captured by Palestinian photographers in the aftermath of the attack showed several badly damaged concrete buildings, one of them reduced to rubble. Both the Palestinian images and the Israeli video appeared to have been taken from the same location, next to several rows of tents.

ImageSmoke billowing over Rafah, Gaza, during a wave of Israeli attacks early on Monday.Credit…Mohammed Abed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The ministry of health in Gaza said that at least 67 people had been killed overnight in Israeli strikes in Rafah. News outlets reported deadly attacks on two mosques in Rafah.

Neither the Israeli account nor the toll reported by the Gazan health ministry — which does not distinguish between civilian and combatant deaths — could be verified independently.

Ziad Obeid, a customs official who had fled to Rafah, described being awakened at 2 a.m. by a barrage of explosions so bright that it was “as if we were in the middle of the day, not the night.” He added: “It was a horrible night.”

The Israeli military said the soldiers forced their way inside a second-floor apartment to rescue the two hostages, Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70.

The military said the ensuing strikes were intended to prevent Hamas commanders in the surrounding area from contacting the hostages’ guards and completing “an operational picture” of the raid.

The military did not reveal how the commandos reached the house, but Israeli news media reported that they forced open a door with an explosive, and that the hostages were evacuated by helicopter.

The operation was greeted joyfully in Israel, where the fate of the hostages has exacerbated social divisions and trauma.

Some Israelis want their government to agree to a deal that would free the remaining hostages in exchange for ending the war, fearing that the Israeli offensive puts the captives in jeopardy.

The rescue was a major boost for Mr. Netanyahu, who said in a statement on Monday that “only continued military pressure, until total victory, will bring about the release of all of our hostages.”

ImagePalestinians ride in the back of a truck as they flee Rafah on Monday.Credit…Mohammed Abed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Netanyahu, vowing to end Hamas’s control of Gaza, has ignored warnings — from the United States, the United Nations, aid groups and others that an advance on Rafah would be devastating to civilians and risk exacerbating a catastrophe that is already unfolding, with residents running low on food, clean water and medicine.

Mr. Netanyahu has ordered the military to draw up plans to evacuate civilians from Rafah, but aid groups and others say there is no place left for them to go. On Sunday, he promised to offer Palestinians safe passage to northern areas of Gaza before an invasion of Rafah, though he offered no details.

Maps: Tracking the Attacks in Israel and Gaza

Videos show the aftermath of the Israeli strikes in Rafah during the hostage rescue.

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Video shows the aftermath of Israeli strikes in the southern Gazan city of Rafah during an operation that freed two men taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7.CreditCredit…

Videos and photos verified by The New York Times showed several large craters and destroyed residential buildings left behind by Israeli strikes in Rafah during an operation early Monday that freed two men taken hostage during the Oct. 7 assault led by Hamas.

Later on Monday, the Israeli military released a video it said showed rescuers removing the hostages from a building in the area. Israeli forces later destroyed the building in an airstrike.

The military said the raid and attacks took place in the Shaboura area of Rafah, the southern city where more than a million displaced Gazans are living, according to U.N. estimates. In early December, Israeli officials told displaced Gazans to evacuate to that part of Rafah for their safety.


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