Israel announced Monday that it had released two hostages in Rafah, the final target of its offensive in the Gaza Strip, where the ruling Hamas reported 52 Palestinians killed during this nighttime operation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his army to prepare an offensive on Rafah, on the border with Egypt, where most of the population of the Palestinian territory is currently massed, according to the UN, causing concern among the International community.
Hamas warned on Sunday that such an offensive would “torpedo” any agreement for the release of the hostages it still holds in Gaza.
But Israel affirmed that the strikes on the night of Sunday to Monday were not part of the launch of this offensive, but of an operation to recover two hostages kidnapped on October 7 during the unprecedented attack by Hamas fighters. in southern Israel, the starting point of this war.
“Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, were recovered during a nighttime operation in Rafah carried out jointly by the Israeli Shin Beth (Internal Security) army and police,” according to a statement from these three services.
Abducted from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, the two men were taken to the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan for initial medical examinations. “They are in stable condition,” Arnon Afek, the director of the establishment, told the press.
“Three terrorists were killed in the building where they were detained,” according to an initial report from the Israeli army, which had previously limited itself to confirming that it had “carried out a series of raids against terrorist targets in the south of the Gaza strip “.
Another hundred hostages
These strikes hit 14 houses and three mosques in different areas of Rafah, according to the Hamas government.
Around 250 people were kidnapped in Israel on October 7 and taken to Gaza. A week-long truce in November allowed the release of 105 hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinians detained by Israel. Before the release of the last two hostages, Israel estimated that 132 were still detained in Gaza, of whom 29 were believed to have died.
Rafah has become the last refuge for Palestinians stuck on the closed border with Egypt, numbering 1.4 million according to the UN, the vast majority displaced having fled the war which has been raging for four months.
US President Joe Biden urged the Israeli Prime Minister, during a telephone interview on Sunday, to “guarantee the security” of the Palestinian population. Several states have warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the event of an assault on the overcrowded city.
“Victory is within reach,” Benyamin Netanyahu declared on the American channel ABC News, calling Rafah the “last bastion” of Hamas.
Israel will provide “safe passage for the civilian population so that they can leave” the city, he added, without specifying where civilians could take refuge.
” Nowhere to go ”
“I don’t know where we will go” in the event of an offensive on Rafah, testified Farah Mohammad, who fled Gaza City, in the north of the territory. “There is no place to escape,” says this 39-year-old mother, who has lost all contact with her husband for a month.
“Under current conditions”, Washington “could not support a military operation in Rafah due to the density of the population”, indicated a senior official of the American administration, stressing that the civilian population has “nowhere where to go “.
The assault by Hamas fighters in southern Israel on October 7 left more than 1,160 dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli data.
In retaliation, Israel vowed to “destroy” the Islamist movement, in power in Gaza since 2007, which it considers a “terrorist” organization, as do the United States and the European Union.
The Israeli offensive has left more than 28,000 dead in the Gaza Strip, the vast majority of them civilians, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.
Furthermore, the Israeli police and army announced that they had killed two Palestinians responsible for stabbing attacks on Sunday evening, one on a police checkpoint in occupied and annexed East Jerusalem, and the other against an Israeli soldier in a dam near Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank.
The Health Ministry of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the autonomous areas of the West Bank, reported a 35-year-old Palestinian killed by Israeli forces near Bethlehem. The Palestinian killed in East Jerusalem was a 15-year-old resident of the city, the official Palestinian Wafa agency reported.
Around 1.7 million people, according to the UN, out of a total of 2.4 million inhabitants, have fled their homes since October 7 in the devastated Palestinian territory, besieged by Israel and plunged into a humanitarian crisis. major. Many were displaced several times, fleeing further south as the fighting spread.
Rafah, which has become a gigantic encampment, is the last urban center where the Israeli army has not yet penetrated and the main entry point for humanitarian aid, insufficient to meet the needs of the population threatened in the middle of winter by the famine and epidemics.