At least 67 Palestinians killed in Rafah in wake of Israeli hostage rescue in Gaza
Freed Israeli hostages identified as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Hare, 70
Israel freed two Israeli Argentine hostages in Rafah on Monday under the cover of airstrikes, which local health officials said killed 67 Palestinians and wounded dozens in the southern Gaza city that is the last refuge of about a million displaced civilians.
A joint operation by the Israeli military, the domestic Shin Bet security service and the Special Police Unit in Rafah freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Hare, 70, the military said.
The two men were kidnapped by Hamas from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on Oct. 7, the military said, among some 250 people who Israel says were seized during the militant raid that triggered its war on Gaza.
"We've been working a long time on this operation," Israeli military spokesperson Lt Col. Richard Hecht said. "We were waiting for the right conditions."
A relative of one of the hostages said he had seen both freed men in hospital and found them "a bit frail, a bit thin, a bit pale," but overall in good condition. Idan Bejerano, son-in-law of Hare, said that the hostages had both been sleeping when, "within a minute," the commandos were in the building and covering them as they fought the captors.
They were being treated in Israel's Sheba hospital, its director Prof Arnon Afek said. A photograph released to media showed them in hospital, sitting on a sofa alongside relatives.
The hostages were being held on the second floor of a building that was breached with explosives during the raid, which saw heavy exchanges of gunfire with surrounding buildings, Hecht said.
Israel's military said its airstrikes had coincided with the raid to allow its forces to be extracted.
The Argentinian government thanked Israel for the rescue of the two men, who it said were dual nationals of Argentina.
Netanyahu said in an interview aired on Sunday that "enough" of the 132 remaining Israeli hostages held in Gaza were alive to justify Israel's war in Rafah.
'Worst night' in Rafah
The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said 67 people had been killed and the number could rise as rescue operations were underway. A photograph from the scene showed a vast area of rubble where buildings had been destroyed.
Palestinians in Rafah said two mosques and several houses were hit during more than an hour of strikes by Israeli warplanes, tanks and ships, causing widespread panic among people who had been asleep.
"It was the worst night since we arrived in Rafah last month. Death was so near as shells and missiles landed 200 metres from our tent camp," said Gaza businessman Emad, a father of six, who communicated with Reuters using a chat app.
Some worried Israel had begun a long-feared ground offensive in the city, where more than a million people displaced by Israel's war on Hamas are sheltering with nowhere else to go.
"Everyone said it was a surprise ground attack. My family and I said our last prayers," Emad said.
The war began after an attack in Israel by Hamas-led militants in which 1,200 people were killed, according to Israeli tallies, including several Canadian citizens. Israel has responded with a military assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian officials.
U.S. President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that Israel should not start a military operation in Rafah without a credible plan to ensure the safety of the roughly one million people sheltering there, the White House said.
'Nowhere for them to go': Britain's Cameron
Aid agencies say an assault on Rafah would be catastrophic, with neighbouring Egypt's foreign ministry warning Sunday of "dire consequences" of a possible Israeli military assault there. Egypt has reinforced its border with the city, saying it fears Gazans will be pushed across, never to return.
Netanyahu's office has said it had ordered the military to develop a plan to evacuate Rafah, but British Foreign Minister David Cameron appeared skeptical of the feasibility of such a plan on Monday for people who've already moved "four, five, six times."
"It really is, we think, impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people," Cameron told reporters in Scotland. "There's nowhere for them to go — they can't go south to Egypt, they can't go north back to their homes, because many have been destroyed."
Many Western leaders have expressed alarm at Israel's offensive while continuing to support the country.
However, a Dutch appeals court said it had blocked the export of F-35 fighter jets parts to Israel over a "clear risk of violations of international humanitarian law" in its operations in Gaza.
Israel's Defence Ministry declined comment on the decision.
In another deadly incident in Gaza, Palestinian medics said 15 people had been killed in an airstrike in the central town of Deir al-Balah.
With files from CBC News