by Ben Sales
(JTA) — The Israeli military has rescued two hostages in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the second such rescue since Hamas took hundreds of Israelis captive on Oct. 7.
The overnight rescue operation, which was announced in the early hours of Monday morning, Israel time, comes as the Israel Defense Forces are shifting their focus to Rafah, a city on the border with Egypt where there are currently more than a million Palestinians. The rescue operation also comes as negotiations toward a ceasefire and hostage release have hit obstacles.
The two rescued hostages, Norberto Louis Har, 70, and Fernando Simon Marman, 60, were taken captive from the border community of Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. Hamas took some 250 hostages in total and killed approximately 1,200 Israelis in its attack, which launched the current war.
Three of their relatives were also taken captive: Clara Marman, Har’s wife and Marman’s sister; and Gabriela and Mia Leimberg, Marman’s sister and niece, respectively. All three of those relatives, in addition to Mia Leimberg’s dog, were released together in late November during a weeklong ceasefire when Hamas released more than 100 hostages, nearly all of them women and children, in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners.
“Not stopping till they all come home!” read a message from the Hostages Families Forum, the group led by relatives of the hostages that is working to secure their release, announcing the rescue operation. “How good it is that they have returned home.”
The hourlong rescue operation, which had been planned in advance, took place on the second floor of a building and involved airstrikes as well as ground combat, according to the Times of Israel. One Israeli soldier was lightly injured.
The IDF previously rescued an additional hostage, soldier Ori Megidish, in late October. An estimated 134 hostages remain, including dozens thought to be dead. Israeli forces unintentionally killed three hostages in December, and Hamas has claimed that more have died in Israeli airstrikes.
Relatives of the captives have led protests in recent weeks pushing Israel’s government to reach another hostage release deal, but Hamas and Israel have yet to agree on terms.
After battling in Gaza City and Khan Younis, Israel is now preparing to attack Hamas forces in Rafah, where most of the enclave’s population is now sheltering. Israel has said it will allow civilians to evacuate before escalating its operations in the city. More than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry — a number Israel says is roughly one-third combatants. More than 200 Israeli soldiers have been killed in ground operations in Gaza.