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Hostages Freed Amid Rafah Onslaught

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13 February 2024, The Australian / AFP, by Mai Yaghi – Phil Hazlewood

Two Israeli hostages have been rescued in Rafah during a night-time operation carried out as airstrikes pummelled the southern Gaza city and ground troops prepared to move in.

The military said that “during a joint IDF (military), ISA (Shin Bet security agency), and Israel Police operation in Rafah overnight, two Israeli hostages were rescued, Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, who were kidnapped by the Hamas terrorist ­organisation on October 7 from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak”.

“They are both in good medical condition, and were transferred for medical examination at the Sheba Tel Hashomer hospital,” it added.

The rescue mission was carried out just hours after Hamas warned Israel that a threatened ground ­offensive in Rafah – now home to tens of thousands of refugees – would put hostage releases at risk.

Airstrikes on the city overnight killed “around 100” people, ­according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

The Israeli military said it had “conducted a series of strikes on terror targets in the area of Shaboura in the southern Gaza Strip”, adding that the strikes had concluded.

Hamas’s military wing had earlier claimed two hostages had been killed and eight others seriously wounded in Israeli attacks in ­recent days, a claim that could not be independently verified.

The miliary action came as foreign governments, including the US, and aid groups voiced deep concern over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to extend operations into the city.

Rafah, on the border with Egypt, has remained the last refuge for Palestinians fleeing Israel’s bombardment elsewhere in the Gaza Strip in its four-month war against Hamas.

“Any attack by the occupation army on the city of Rafah would torpedo the exchange negotiations,” a Hamas leader said on condition of anonymity.

Mr Netanyahu has told troops to prepare to enter the city which now hosts more than half of Gaza’s total population. US President Joe Biden spoke to Mr Netanyahu on Sunday (Monday AEDT) and told him the advance should not go ahead in the absence of a “credible” plan to ensure “the safety” of people sheltering there.

Some 1.4 million Palestinians have crowded into Rafah, with many living in tents while food, water and medicine are becoming increasingly scarce.

Mr Netanyahu had told US broadcaster ABC News the Rafah operation would go ahead until Hamas is eliminated, adding he would provide “safe passage” to ­civilians wishing to leave.

When pressed about where they could go, Mr Netanyahu said: “You know, the areas that we’ve cleared north of Rafah, plenty of areas there. But, we are working out a detailed plan.”

Mediators held new talks in Cairo for a pause in the fighting and the release of some of the 130 hostages Israel says are still in Gaza, including 29 thought to be dead.

Hossam al-Sharqawi of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said “every day our ambulance guys (in Gaza) are martyred or injured”. “This is unacceptable, this madness must stop.”

During a visit to a military base on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said ­Israel aimed for “the demilitarisation of Gaza”. “This requires our security control … over the entire area west of Jordan, including the Gaza Strip,” he said.

The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) were some of the latest to raise the alarm over the plan for Rafah. “The OIC strongly warned that the continuation and expansion of the Israeli military aggression is part of rejected attempts to forcibly expel the Palestinian people from their land,” the 57-nation Jeddah-based bloc said.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also rejected a “forced” displacement of people from Rafah, evoking the trauma of Palestinians’ mass exodus around the time of Israel’s creation in 1948.

Riyadh called for a UN Security Council meeting, while Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Cameron said the priority “must be an immediate pause in the fighting to get aid in and hostages out”.

Gazans, driven further and further south, have repeatedly said they can find no safe refuge from the fighting and bombing.

Farah Muhammad, 39, a ­mother of five displaced to Rafah from northern Gaza, said she felt helpless. “There is no place to ­escape,” she said.

Article link: https://todayspaper.theaustralian.com.au/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=5c0ebf76-fbf7-4a42-b6ed-2086480d5c4c&share=true
Article source: The Australian / AFP | Mai Yaghi - Phil Hazlewood | 13 February 2024

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000