The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) rescued two Israeli hostages on Sunday in the town of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, bringing elation to Israel and hope for the rescue of more hostages.
In a joint statement, the IDF, Israel Security Agency (ISA), and Israel Police said:
It was cleared for publication that during a joint IDF, ISA, 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 organization on October 7th from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak.
They are both in good medical condition, and were transferred for medical examination at the Sheba Tel Hashomer hospital.
Security forces will continue to operate with all means in order to return the hostages home.
According to online biographies, both hostage are originally from Argentina. Their release comes after the visit last week of Argentinian President Javier Milei, who visited families of Argentinian-Israeli hostages and survivors of the October 7 terror attack. Both men were abducted from Kibbutz Nir Yitzchak during the October 7 terror attack.
According to Israel’s Army Radio, the hostages were rescued from within, or underneath, a “refugee” camp in Rafah. Rafah is a town on the border with Egypt that is the last stronghold of Hamas, with four battalions thought to be hiding in the city.
Earlier Sunday, President Joe Biden warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to attack Hamas in Rafah until there was a credible plan for evacuating the roughly one million Palestinian civilians who have fled there from elsewhere in the Gaza Strip.
Many other nations have also tried to urge Israel not to attack Hamas in Rafah, ostensibly because of a humanitarian crisis that could ensue, or because of the possible flight of Palestinians into Egypt. Netanyahu has ordered an evacuation and attack plan.
The two hostages were the first ones rescued since the IDF rescued female soldier Ori Megidish in October. Three hostages were accidentally killed in December after they had escaped their Hamas captors and tried to cross over to Israeli lines during a battle.
Update: Israel’s Army Radio reported that the hostages were rescued from a building in an operation involving both ground forces and airstrikes, and that several terrorists were killed in the battle. The Israel Air Force struck targeted buildings after the hostages had been extracted.
The Times of Israel reported:
Asked on his first impressions of the pair, [Har’s son-in-law Idan] Bejerano said “They’re both in bed at the hospital. It’s difficult to know, but they look whole. Whether they’re healthy in spirit, in body, is still hard to know. But they look whole.”
“It seems they had strength of spirit for these 128 days, to remain strong and to come back to us.”
He notes that neither is young, with Har turning 71 in a few weeks’ time, and Marman having marked his 61st birthday in captivity.
There are 134 Israeli hostages remaining in Gaza, several dozens of whom are thought to be dead.
According to a local Jewish religious leader in New York, members of the Har and Marman families visited the Ohel, the gravesite of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, last week to offer prayers for their relatives’ release.
IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hargari posted a video and a photo of the arrival of the hostages in Israel:
הותר לפרסום כי במבצע משותף של צה”ל, שב”כ ומשטרת ישראל (ימ”מ) ברפיח, חולצו הלילה שני חטופים ישראלים, פרננדו סימון מרמן (60) ולואיס הר (70) אשר נחטפו על ידי חמאס לרצועת עזה מניר יצחק ב-7/10.
מצבם של השניים טוב והם הועברו לבדיקות רפואיות במרכז הרפואי שיבא תל השומר. pic.twitter.com/S4GGCEhh8r
— דובר צה״ל דניאל הגרי – Daniel Hagari (@IDFSpokesperson) February 12, 2024
The Times of Israel quoted Hagari:
“The IDF and the Shin Bet have been working on this operation for a long time,” he says.
Forces clandestinely arrived at the target at around 1 a.m., and carried out a very complex action on the premises and the second floor where the hostages were held.”
He says forces then broke into the building through a locked door and exchanged fire with gunmen in the building and in adjacent buildings, while extracting the hostages to armored vehicles.
The rescue took an hour, Hagari said.
Update 2: At his evening briefing, Hagari elaborated on the details of the overnight operation:
In the early morning, at 01:49, the special forces breached into a building in the heart of Rafah.
On the second floor, Louis and Fernando were held by armed Hamas terrorists, who were present in the building along with terrorists who were in the adjacent buildings.
From the moment of the breach and entry into the apartment, Yamam forces shielded Louis and Fernando with their bodies, initiating a daring battle and heavy exchanges of fire at several locations simultaneously, with many terrorists.
By 01:50, aerial fire was activated by the Israeli Air Force and Southern Command, to enable the force’s disengagement and to strike Hamas terrorists in the area.
At this stage, the forces extracted Louis and Fernando from the apartment and evacuated them under fire, accompanied by IDF forces who provided them protection in the Rafah area until they reached a safe zone.
There, they underwent initial medical examination by the forces in the field and were airlifted by a helicopter with soldiers of the Unit 669 for further medical treatment at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer, where – with great emotion – they met with their families.
The Chief of the General Staff was together with the Head of the ISA and the Police Commissioner at the ISA’s command center, along with additional commanders. From there, they made decisions, monitored, and commanded the forces in the operation. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense also arrived at the command center during the night and accompanied the operation. It was a very tense and emotional night.
Such an operation was made possible thanks to the great sacrifice of the mandatory and reserve soldiers throughout the war, especially those who fell and were injured in battles.
Israeli and Argentinian leaders took to social media to welcome the hostages home and thank the soldiers who rescued them.
פרננדו ולואיס – ברוכים השבים הביתה.
אני מצדיע ללוחמינו האמיצים על הפעולה הנועזת שהביאה לשחרורם. רק המשך הלחץ הצבאי, עד לניצחון המוחלט, יביא לשחרור כל חטופינו.
לא נחמיץ אף הזדמנות להשיבם הביתה.
— Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) February 12, 2024
Netanyahu said (translation via Government Press Office): “Fernando and Louis, welcome home. I salute our brave fighters for the daring action that led to their release. Only continued military pressure, until total victory, will bring about the release of all of our hostages. We will not miss any opportunity to bring them home.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent book, “The Zionist Conspiracy (and how to join it),” now available on Audible. He is also the author of the e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.