Israeli forces in Gaza freed two hostages in an overnight mission Monday in Rafah.
Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Norberto Louis Har, 70, both kidnapped while visiting Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, are in good medical condition, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
The IDF, Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and Israel Police worked together to free the Israeli-Argentine nationals, the IDF said. They were kidnapped along with 251 other Israelis and foreign nationals during Hamas’s Oct. 7 invasion of the northwestern Negev.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed their release after 129 days in captivity in a statement on Monday.
“I salute our brave warriors for the bold action that led to their liberation. Only the continuation of military pressure, until complete victory, will result in the release of all our abductees,” the premier said. “We will not miss any opportunity to bring them home.”
Argentine President Javier Milei, who recently visited Israel, hailed the rescue operation on X.
“The Office of the President thanks the Israel Defense Forces, the [Shin Bet] and the Israel Police for having successfully completed the rescue of the Argentines Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Har,” Milei tweeted.
“During his visit to the State of Israel, President Javier Milei reiterated to President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the request for the release of each of the Argentine hostages, and continues to firmly maintain his condemnation of Hamas terrorism,” the tweet continued.
In a press conference on Monday morning, IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said, “The IDF and the ISA have been working on this operation for a long time. Conditions were not ripe to carry it out until now.”
The rescue operation, which began at 1 a.m., was “complex,” based on “highly sensitive” intelligence and carried out under fire in the heart of Rafah city, said Hagari.
The Shin Bet’s operational unit managed the operation, which was carried out by it and the Israel Police’s Yamam National Counter-Terrorism Unit.
The IDF said it carried out several airstrikes in Rafah as a diversion for the rescue operation. The rescue unit breached the building at 1:49 a.m.
The force came down from the roof and used an explosive to breach a door on the second floor, killing the Hamas guards and picking up the hostages. Other Hamas gunmen fired from nearby buildings but were engaged by Israeli forces deployed in the street in an hour-long battle.
“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,” said Hagari.
“The troops pulled Louis and Fernando out of the apartment and rescued them under fire, [escorting them] until they reached the safe zone,” he continued.
“It was a very tense and very touching night. Such an operation was made possible thanks to the great sacrifice of the standing army and reserve troops who fell and were injured in the battles. Without their sacrifice, we would not have reached this moment,” Hagari said.
A Blackhawk helicopter took the hostages to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan, to reunite with their families and undergo medical examinations.
Two soldiers wounded during the rescue were hospitalized.
“I’m very happy to announce that this evening two released hostages landed here at Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital,” said Professor Arnon Afek, director of Sheba.
“They were received in our ER and initial examinations were conducted by our ER staff. They are in a stable condition and being tended to,” Afek added.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said of the rescue, “Along with the prime minister and top commanders I followed the operation from the war room. I offer my full appreciation to the IDF, ISA and the National Counter-Terrorism Unit,” adding that “we will continue to fulfill our commitment to return the abducted, in any way.”
There are still 134 hostages remaining in Hamas custody, 32 of whom are confirmed dead and 20 of whom are feared dead. Hamas terrorists murdered some 1,200, mostly civilians, and wounded thousands more during the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel.
“If you can hear me now, we are very determined to bring you home and we will not miss any opportunity to bring you home,” Hagari said in a message to the remaining captives.
Herzog welcomed the return of the hostages, invoking medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides, who said “there is no greater mitzvah than the redemption of captives.”
“I salute everyone who brought Fernando and Luis home in a daring rescue operation. We will continue to act in every way to return all the hostages to their homes,” Herzog said.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid also cheered the rescue in an X post, adding that “the mission to return the abducted is a national mission and we need to continue to act in all arenas until everyone returns home. A morning with a little light, amid the pain and difficulty.”
It was the second successful hostage rescue operation since the start of the war. Israeli forces rescued Pvt. Ori Megidish in Gaza in late October.
Marman and Har were abducted from Nir Yitzhak along with three female family members, who were returned to Israel as part of the hostage deal at the end of November that saw the release of 105 captives (four hostages were freed before the truce). The three released on the 53rd day of the war were Har’s partner and Marman’s sister, Clara Marman, 63, her sister, Gabriela Leimberg, 59, and Gabriela’s daughter Mia, 17.
The other four family members were all visiting Clara Marman, the only one of them who lives at the kibbutz, when the terrorists came.
They were held in tunnels and then in an apartment. Marman and Har told Sheba that they were held in a family home in Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza along the Egyptian border, that the IDF is preparing to invade to complete the dismantlement of Hamas’s remaining battalions.
The five were the only ones kidnapped from Nir Yitzhak.
Har’s son-in-law Idan Bjarno visited him at Sheba Medical Center, describing the encounter to Ynet.
“I met him, he was lying in bed. He was trying to sit up when we arrived, we saw that it was difficult for him and he was very excited. We were able to hug him each in turn. He cared about our safety. From the little we heard, there was no media in the house they were in—no radio or television, occasionally Al Jazeera. There wasn’t much food either. They had lost weight, and were quite pale, unshaven and unkempt.”
Earlier in the night, the IDF detained some 20 Hamas terrorists in Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Yunis, the Israeli military stated. It and the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories unit delivered 20 oxygen tanks to the hospital.
“Before operating inside of the hospital, IDF soldiers were briefed to adhere to international law, protecting patients, civilians and medical equipment,” the IDF stated. “The operation also entailed pre-coordination with the hospital itself. Hamas continues to embed itself in civilian areas. This includes hospitals where Gazan civilians are supposed to receive life-saving care.”
On Sunday, U.S. President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that he believes “that a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there,” according to a White House readout of the two leaders’ call.
On Friday, Netanyahu stated, “It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war of eliminating Hamas by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah. On the contrary, it is clear that intense activity in Rafah requires that civilians evacuate the areas of combat.”
On Thursday, John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council of the White House who was recently promoted to assistant to the president, told a reporter that the United States has “seen no plans that would convince us that they [Israel] are about to or imminently going to conduct any kind of major operations in Rafah.”
“More than a million Palestinians are sheltering in and around Rafah. That’s where they were told to go. There’s a lot of displaced people there, and the Israeli military has a special obligation as they conduct operations there or anywhere else to make sure that they’re factoring in protection for innocent civilian life, particularly the civilians that were pushed into southern Gaza by operations further north—Khan Yunis and north Gaza,” Kirby said.
He added that “absent any full consideration of protecting civilians at that scale in Gaza—military operations right now would be a disaster for those people, and it’s not something that we would support.”