Palestinians inspect damaged buildings after Israeli airstrikes on Rafah Abed Rahim Khatib/dpa/Alamy
gaza strip

Israel kills 'around 100' people in strikes on Rafah while recovering two hostages

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

LAST UPDATE | Feb 12th 2024, 2:53 PM

PREDAWN ISRAELI STRIKES in the southern Gaza city of Rafah killed dozens of people today, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

“Around 100″ people have been killed in the strikes on the city along the Egyptian border and 14 houses and three mosques were hit.

Israel has announced that it recovered two hostages in the city during the strikes. 

Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, were rescued amid an intense firefight and heavy airstrikes, then airlifted to a hospital where they were declared in good health despite more than four months in captivity.

Har’s son-in-law praised the rescue of the Argentinian-Israeli men and described an emotional reunion in a hospital near Tel Aviv as “a lot of tears, hugs, not many words”.

“Luckily for us, as a family, they were saved tonight. But I must say that the job is not done,” said Idan Bejerano. “We are happy today, but we didn’t win. It’s just another step towards bringing [back] all the other [hostages].”

The Israeli army is preparing for a ground incursion into the teeming city along the border with Egypt, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians have sought refuge from fighting further north.

About 1.4 million Palestinians have fled to Rafah, with many living in tents, while food, water and medicine are becoming increasingly scarce. 

The Palestinian foreign ministry condemned what it called a “massacre” in Rafah last night and accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “a mentality of revenge”.  

rafah-palestinian-territories-12th-feb-2024-a-palestinian-child-inspects-damaged-buildings-after-israeli-airstrikes-on-rafah-southern-gaza-strip-credit-abed-rahim-khatibdpaalamy-live-news A Palestinian child in a building damaged by the Israeli air strikes on Rafah Abed Rahim Khatib / dpa/Alamy Abed Rahim Khatib / dpa/Alamy / dpa/Alamy

The precarious humanitarian situation in Rafah has prompted aid groups and foreign governments, including Israel’s key ally the United States, to express deep concern over the potentially disastrous consequences of expanding operations there.

Riham Jafari of ActionAid told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that people are living in increasingly overcrowded conditions.

“Each toilet is shared by hundreds of people,” she said.

“Pregnant women are forced to give birth unsheltered, without medical care.”

She highlighted that there are now also fewer avenues for humanitarian aid to get through the border, and a full ground invasion would make deliveries “impossible”.

During the 7 October attacks, Palestinian militants seized about 250 hostages, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. Israel says around 130 are still in Gaza, though 29 are thought to be dead.

Dozens of hostages were freed by Hamas during a one-week truce in November that also saw the release of more than 200 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Since then, Netanyahu has faced mounting protests and even calls for early elections, with relatives of the hostages frustrated over the pace of the rescues.

Renewed talks for a pause in the fighting have been held in Cairo, with Hamas open to a fresh ceasefire including more prisoner-hostage exchanges, but a Hamas leader told AFP on condition of anonymity that an Israeli push into Rafah “would torpedo the exchange negotiations”.

The group’s military wing yesterday said two hostages had been killed and eight others seriously wounded in Israeli bombardment in recent days, a claim AFP was unable to independently verify.

Overnight strikes

AFP journalists and witnesses heard an intense series of strikes and saw smoke billowing above the city, which now hosts more than half of Gaza’s total population after they fled bombardment elsewhere in the Strip.

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.

A firefight broke out as the hostages were being taken out of the building they were held in, an Israeli army spokesperson said, with air strikes targeting nearby buildings where shots were fired.

“Many terrorists were killed this evening during this operation and one of our fighters was slightly injured,” he said. 

A spokesperson from the prime minister’s office said the Israeli “forces went up to the second floor of a building in Rafah, broke open the locked building door with an explosive device, shot at nearby points and successfully rescued the abductees”.

“At this point, fire was opened from the building and nearby buildings, and a prolonged battle took place, during which dozens of Hamas targets were attacked from the air in order to allow the force to leave the building.”

“Many terrorists were killed,” said army spokesman Daniel Hagari.

US President Joe Biden spoke to Netanyahu by phone yesterday and told him the Rafah advance should not go ahead in the absence of a “credible” plan to ensure “the safety” of people sheltering there, the White House said.

Haaretz has reported that Biden supposedly called the Israeli premier an “asshole” on at least three occasions over his lack of willingness to work towards a ceasefire.

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

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been among countries that have voiced alarm over the looming Rafah incursion and warned against a “forced” displacement of Palestinians.

Riyadh called for an urgent 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”.

When pressed about where they could go, 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.”

Israel has put a visa ban on the United Nations special rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories over recent comments denying the 7 October attack was “anti-Semitic”.

The UN-appointed independent expert, Francesca Albanese, last week said she disagreed with French President Emmanuel Macron’s description of the attack.

“No”, Albanese wrote in French on social media platform X. “The victims of 7/10 were not killed because of their Jewishness but in response to Israeli oppression.”