Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, were recovered on Monday in a successful and complex rescue operation, carried out by the Shin Bet and the National Counter Terrorism Unit, together with various IDF units. The IDF said that the forces worked for a long time to prepare for the complex and dangerous operation.
IDF Spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in his statement on Monday: "Tonight we brought Louis and Fernando home in a joint rescue operation by the IDF, the National Counter Terrorism Unit and Shin Bet. The Air Force covered the forces during the operation. This is an operation we have prepared for a while. At 1:49 a.m. the forces broke into the building in Rafah. There, on the second floor, Louis and Fernando were held. The National Counter Terrorism Unit soldiers hugged and protected Louis and Fernando with their bodies, and then began a daring battle with heavy exchange of fire with many terrorists."
Hagari made a direct appeal to the hostages who are still in Gaza: "If you hear me, know that we are very determined to return you home, and we will not miss any such opportunity. We do not forget for a moment that 134 hostages are still being held in Gaza."
Hagari commented on the number of Palestinians killed in the operation, according to the reports from Gaza. "Many terrorists were killed in this operation, along with the terrorists who were killed en route to the Rafah operation. We attacked Hamas targets and operational buildings in Rafah," he said.
The operation was carried out only after the conditions were suitable. According to the reports, it was extremely complex to reach the destination in the heart of Rafah. The forces secretly arrived at the building where the hostages were held on the second floor. The operation involved covert work with air support and massive fire for cover.
In order to penetrate the target, which had stationed armed Hamas guards, who also were in nearby buildings, the forces used an explosive device to break open a locked door, fired at nearby points from the ground and from the air, and thus succeeded in extracting the two hostages.
At this point, Hamas opened fire from the building and nearby buildings. Dozens of Hamas targets were attacked from the air to allow the soldiers to leave the building. The operation was considered a success with only one Israeli soldier lightly wounded, who was injured by a fall from a height and not by gunfire. The force left its cover and arrived at the extraction point where a helicopter took the released hostages to Sheba Medical Center, where they were reunited with their families.
During the operation, Hamas' Shabora battalion in Rafah was attacked in order to surprise the Hamas forces there. The commander of the IDF Southern Command, Major General Yaron Finkelman, commanded over the operation from the Southern Command base in Be'er Sheva.
"We have another 134 hostages in the Gaza Strip and we will do everything to return them," said the IDF spokesperson. "This is a story of heroism with great patience that preceded it in order to carry out the operation under the right conditions, great courage of the soldiers under the command of an IDF commander who lost his son."
The operation included many risks, training and preliminary models, and it was conducted close to 1:00 a.m. In total, the operation took about an hour, from the first shot fired until reaching the extraction point. The helicopter landing site was not close to the location so armored forces with 7th Division tanks accompanied the special forces to the helicopter.
Ynet military commentator Ron Ben Yishai points out that the rescue was planned for a long time, but the conditions for the operation just recently improved. Several warnings calling on the IDF not to enter Rafah were issued against Israel in international media and by senior figures including U.S. President Joe Biden and U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who fear a humanitarian disaster.
The rescue was possible, in part, due to the proximity of the Shabora neighborhood - where the hostages were held - to Khan Younis and Israeli active forces there. Therefore, some of the rescue teams were able to operate after the massive fire pinned the terrorists, and allowed the rescue teams to reach the building and enter it.
The Shin Bet's operational unit carried out the operation together with the National Counter Terrorism Unit because the two units are accustomed to working together in stealth operations managed by the Shin Bet's Operations Command or from the IDF, based on information provided by the Shin Bet before and during the operation. The National Counter Terrorism Unit is the national unit for the rescue of hostages and has unique means and methods of work and training for this purpose.
The rescue operation was overseen from the operational room where the Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar, Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai and Air Force Commander Tomer Bar met. At a certain point, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant joined.
Hamas claims: More than 100 Palestinians were killed in the Rafah airstrikes
Hamas responded this morning to the rescue operation, and claimed that more than 100 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli attack in Rafah on Monday. The Palestinian news agency Wafa quoted health sources in Rafah who claimed that more than 80 were killed in the attack, including children and women, and hundreds were injured.
The director of the Kuwait hospital in Rafah, Sohaib al-Homs, said that the hospital is full of wounded as a result of the attack. Local sources told Wafa that warplanes launched a series of about 40 attacks, specifically targeting many houses and mosques where displaced people lived.
Defense Minister Gallant said of the operation: "In an impressive rescue operation, the security forces managed to return to Israel tonight Fernando Marman and Louis Har, who were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak. Together with the prime minister and the senior command, I followed the operation from the operation room. We are full of appreciation for the IDF, Shin Bet and National Counter Terrorism forces for their critical operation, inspiring actions and we will continue to stick to our commitment to return our hostages, in any way possible."
Minister Benny Gantz said Monday morning: "We will never give them up. Congratulations to the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Counter Terrorism forces for a precise and courageous operation. Along with the great joy at the return home of Fernando and Louis, there is great sadness at the fall of Sergeant first class Adi Eldor and Sergeant first class (res.) Alon Kleinman in the battle for our home. We will not stop working until we return all 134 kidnapped people home. We remember, and we continue."