To assist the rescue forces, heavy airstrikes pounded the area near the apartment in Rafah, a city on the southern end of the Gaza Strip where 1.4 million Palestinians have fled to escape fighting elsewhere in the Israel-Hamas war.
The raid was celebrated in Israel as a victory in the battle to free the hostages, with more than 100 captives still held by Hamas and other Gaza terrorists, and briefly lifted the spirits of a nation still reeling from Hamas' cross-border massacre of more than 1200 Israeli men, women and children.
The army identified the rescued hostages as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, abducted by Hamas terrorists from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in the Oct. 7 cross-border attack that triggered the war. Netanyahu's office said they also hold Argentinian citizenship.
Israeli military spokesman Read Adm. Daniel Hagari said special forces broke into a second-floor apartment in Rafah under fire at 1:49 a.m. Monday, accompanied a minute later by airstrikes on surrounding areas. He said the hostages were being guarded by armed Hamas militants and that members of the rescue team shielded the hostages with their bodies as a heavy battle erupted in several places at once with Hamas gunmen.
The hostages were taken to a nearby “safe area,” given a quick medical check and airlifted to Sheba Medical Center in central Israel. Their medical condition was reported to be good. They are just the second and third hostages to be rescued safely; a female soldier was rescued in November.
Over 100 hostages were freed during a weeklong cease-fire in November. Israel says about 100 hostages remain in Hamas captivity, and Hamas also holds the remains of roughly 30 others who were either killed on Oct. 7 or died in captivity.
The plight of the hostages has profoundly shaken Israelis and the government has made freeing the dozens of remaining captives a top aim of its war, along with destroying Hamas' military and governing capabilities.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted persistent military pressure will bring about their freedom — a position he repeated on Monday — even as other top officials have opposed this, saying a deal is the only way to secure their release.