Israeli military

Early on Monday local time, IDF officials said that two Israeli captives held in the Gaza city of Rafah had been freed by a special squad of the Israeli military.

The Big Picture: This is the second successful hostage-rescue operation carried out by the Israel Defense Forces since the Hamas attack on October 7.

  • Two months ago, at least one other comparable operation went wrong.
  • Fernando Merman, 60, and Luis Har, 70, the two freed hostages, were flown in a helicopter to a hospital inside Israel, according to an IDF spokesman on Monday. Both hostages are doing well medically. On October 7, Merman and Har were abducted from the Nir Itshak kibbutz.

Making News: According to the IDF, the operation on Monday began at around one in the morning local time.

  • According to the IDF, forces from the Israeli police counterterrorism unit, the Shin Bet special operations team, and the IDF navy seals arrived at a building in the center of Rafah where Hamas was holding the two hostages.
  • During a press briefing, an IDF spokesperson stated that the soldiers had successfully gained entry into the building, made their way to the second level, detonated an explosive device in the apartment’s door, and eliminated the three terrorists who were holding the two hostages.

Behind the Scenes: According to a senior IDF official who spoke with Axios, the IDF and Shin Bet had been working on the operation for a few weeks based on intelligence. Overnight on Sunday into Monday, there was an operational opportunity.

  • According to the official, the Israeli Air Force carried out intense raids in Rafah to create a distraction that made it possible to free the two hostages. According to Al Jazeera, the Gaza Ministry of Health, which is controlled by Hamas, stated that the bombardment claimed the lives of several Palestinians.
  • After the operation was effectively completed, Israel informed the Biden administration, a person with firsthand information told Axios.

Current Situation: Of the more than 240 captives taken on October 7, over 130 are still in Gaza. A hostage arrangement in November resulted in the release of over 100 people, including Merman’s sister, Har’s wife, and Merman’s other sister and niece. An Israeli soldier detained in northern Gaza was freed by the IDF towards the end of October.

  • There are still significant differences between Israel and Hamas despite Qatar and Egypt’s efforts to mediate a fresh hostage agreement.
  • Officials from Qatar, Egypt, Israel, and the United States are anticipated to convene in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss the hostage negotiations.
  • On Sunday, US President Joe Biden asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to look for methods to bridge the divide. According to a U.S. official, Egypt has been informed by the administration that Hamas needs to be put under pressure in order to reach a settlement.

Enlarge: The rescue effort on Monday coincided with growing international worries that the Israeli military would extend its ground campaign into Rafah, the refuge for over 1.2 million Palestinians.

  • Netanyahu should not increase the ground operation without a strategy in place to evacuate Palestinian civilians, Biden cautioned Netanyahu on Sunday.