Middle East crisis live: two Israeli hostages freed amid Rafah strikes that officials say killed at least 50 Palestinians | Israel-Gaza war


Israel rescues two hostages as airstrikes hit Rafah

Israel carried out a special forces operation that freed two Israeli hostages in Rafah while striking the southern city.

Local health officials from the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry say airstrikes early on Monday killed 37 people and wounded dozens. The bombing caused widespread panic in Rafah as people were asleep when they started, according to residents contacted by Reuters using a chat app. Some feared Israel had begun its ground offensive into Rafah.

Israeli planes, tanks and ships took part in the strikes, with two mosques and several houses hit, according to residents.

A joint operation by the Israel Defence Force (IDF), Israel’s domestic Shin Bet Security Service and the Special Police Unit in Rafah freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, the Israeli military said.

This photo provided by the Israeli military shows an Israeli air force helicopter carrying two released hostages, at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel on Monday

This photo provided by the Israeli military shows an Israeli air force helicopter carrying two released hostages, at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel on Monday. Photograph: AP

The two men, who were kidnapped by Hamas from Nir Yitzhak kibbutz during the 7 October attacks were said to be in a good condition and taken to the Tel Hashomer Medical Complex, the military said.

“It was a very complex operation,” Israeli military spokesperson Lt Col. Richard Hecht said. “We’ve been working a long time on this operation. We were waiting for the right conditions,” reports Reuters.

The hostages were being held on the second floor of a building that was breached with an explosive charge during the raid, which saw heavy exchanges of gunfire with surrounding buildings, Hecht said.

At the same time, an airstrike was carried out to allow the forces to be extracted, he said.

US President Joe Biden told prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that Israel should not launch a full military operation in Rafah without a credible plan to ensure the safety of the roughly 1 million people sheltering there, the White House said.

Updated at 08.21 CET

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Lisa O'Carroll

Lisa O’Carroll

Germany has said UNWRA’s work in Gaza must continue in parallel with the investigation into allegations that several workers were involved in Hamas’s October terrorist attacks on Israel.

Ahead of a meeting in Brussels with UNWRA chiefs, Germany’s development minister, Jochen Flasbarth, said it had paused additional new finance for UNWRA until the investigation into the allegations is concluded.

But he added:

This is not a payment stop and it does not include UNRWA outside the Gaza Strip.

We believe that the UN has taken the right steps, but I also say that UNRWA’s work is not replaceable in the Gaza Strip.

Many people are dying, but human aid is indispensable and we need UNRWA for that.

Updated at 09.44 CET

The WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said only 15 out of 36 hospitals in Gaza were “still partially or minimally functioning” and that aid workers were doing their best in impossible circumstances.

Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai, he said the WHO, the UN’s health agency, continued to call for safe access for humanitarian personnel and supplies, for Hamas to release hostages, and for a ceasefire.

“I am especially concerned by the recent attacks on Rafah where the majority of Gaza’s population has fled the destruction,” he said.

“So far, we have delivered 447 metric tonnes of medical supplies to Gaza, but it’s a drop in the ocean of need, which continues to grow every day.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks as he attends a session of the World Government Summit in Dubai. Photograph: Amr Alfiky/ReutersUK has duty to suspend the supply of arms to Israel, legal groups tell David Cameron

Patrick Wintour

Patrick Wintour

The UK government has a duty not just to support the orders of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), but to change UK policy by suspending the supply of arms to Israel, the foreign secretary, David Cameron, has been told by 30 UK-based organisations including legal and atrocity prevention groups.

The letter, sent last week, argues the government as a signatory to the Genocide Convention, “is bound to ensure it helps prevent and ensure it is not complicit in violations of the convention. The provisional measures issued by the ICJ therefore have immediate and urgent implications for UK policy.”

The Israeli government has been given until 23 February to report to the ICJ on what it has done to comply with six orders the court issued last month, including one relating to ending incitement to genocide and another requiring immediate steps to improve the supply of humanitarian aid.

Gilad Noam, deputy attorney-general for international affairs (L), and lawyer Malcolm Shaw (R) during a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, in January 2024. Photograph: Remko de Waal/EPA

Israel says it is allowing food and water into Gaza, and only making checks to stop items being diverted to Hamas. It has also denied it has any intention of committing genocide, and the ICJ has not ruled one is taking place. Civilian casualties are due to the close urban warfare, and Hamas refusal to release hostages.

The briefing from the UK-based organisations spelling out the implications of the orders issued to Israel by the ICJ for other signatories to the Genocide Convention has also been sent to the shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, and to the UK special envoy for humanitarian aid in Gaza, Mark Bryson-Richardson.

The group claimed the government now “must ensure that it is in no way enabling or otherwise complicit in the commission of acts that the court has found could plausibly be in violation of the convention”.

They add: “In light of the court’s findings, there is now a clear risk, as set out under the Strategic Export Licensing Criteria (SELC), that British arms and military equipment transferred to Israel might be used to facilitate or commit violations of the Genocide Convention as well as violations of international humanitarian law”.

They also say the government “must become far more assertive in its condemnation” of any Israeli government statements and rhetoric that could be deemed to incite genocide.

Similarly, the UK must recognise the court’s finding that the withholding of basic services and humanitarian assistance in Gaza could violate the Genocide Convention and that Israel has therefore been ordered to “take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life”.

They say this requires Israel immediately to “reverse its decision to deprive water and electricity to Palestinians in Gaza both of which constitute urgently needed basic services”.

The authors argue the UK response to the ICJ ruling is central to Britain’s reputation. “The UK has long considered itself a leader in the realms of justice and accountability, supporting the process for the new crimes against humanity treaty, securing an investigative mechanism via the Human Rights Council for Sudan, intervening in the genocide case brought by the Gambia against Myanmar which is currently before the ICJ,” they write.

“The application of justice and accountability for international crimes can never be selective. Inconsistency is the enabler of impunity everywhere. The UK must be steadfast in its support of the ICJ as a competent and appropriate court to hear and investigate state disputes regarding the Genocide Convention, and ensure that the court’s decisions are respected and abided by. Failure to do so risks the lives of Palestinians and Israelis. It also risks unravelling the very foundations of the international rules-based system of international justice, and the UK’s role in the world – playing into the hands of actors who have everything to gain from a broken United Nations.”

In recent weeks the UK Foreign Office has stepped up its demands for both sides to back a humanitarian pause leading to a ceasefire. Cameron on Saturday said he was also deeply concerned by a possible attack on Rafah in Southern Gaza saying “half of Gaza’s population are sheltering there”.

Bryson-Richardson has been negotiating daily with Israeli authorities, urging them to restore water supply lines, reconnect electricity supplies and let in sufficient fuel to power critical infrastructure like bakeries.

But there has been no public statement from the UK government that Israel’s actions subsequent to the court judgment may be in breach of the ICJ order, or that the UK will take new steps to demand aid is delivered.

Dr Kate Ferguson, co-executive director of Protection Approaches and one of the letter’s authors, said:“I worry the UK is still conflating the armed conflict with Hamas and the campaign being waged against the Palestinian people. The order to evacuate and prepare for a ground offensive in Rafah is a brazen disregard of the ICJ order and must be taken as an urgent warning of further atrocity crimes against civilians.”

A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy said: “Israel is bound by international law and continues to act against a genocidal terrorist organisation, which commits war crimes as well as crimes against humanity.

“Israel is enabling the entrance of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip and is facilitating the transfer of any amount of aid requested. The scope of incoming aid is limited only by the handling capabilities of the UN and other aid agencies within the Gaza Strip.

“Claims regarding the food situation in Gaza are inaccurate and are intended to divert the focus from the ongoing failure of these organisations in handling and managing the distribution of aid to the residents who need it.”

Updated at 09.24 CET

The Associated Press has some more information about the operation that led to the two Israeli hostages being freed in Rafah:

Israeli military spokesperson Read Adm. Daniel Hagari said the two hostages had been held in a second-floor apartment in Rafah, under guard from Hamas gunmen, both in the apartment and nearby buildings.

Hagari said special forces broke into the apartment under fire at 1:49 am on Monday, accompanied a minute later by airstrikes on surrounding areas. He said 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 centre in central Israel. Their medical condition was reported to be good. They are just the second and third hostage to be rescued safely; a female soldier was rescued in November.

Hagari said the operation was based on precise intelligence and planned for some time. Netanyahu joined Israel’s military chief and other top officials as the raid unfolded.

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has reiterated his call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Reuters reports.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said on the sidelines of the World Governments Summit in Dubai that medical supplies provided to Gaza so far represent “a drop in the ocean of need which continues to grow every day”.

Summary of the day so far

It’s 9:10am in Gaza and Tel Aviv and here are the latest developments:

Hospital officials in Rafah say at least 50 people have been killed in the Israeli airstrikes that accompanied a hostage rescue operation, according to the Associated Press. Dr Marwan al-Hams, director of the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital, said that the dead included women and children. An Associated Press journalist also counted the bodies brought to hospital.

The bombing in Rafah caused widespread panic in the city as people were asleep when they started, according to residents contacted by Reuters. Some feared Israel had begun its ground offensive into Rafah. Israeli planes, tanks and ships took part in the strikes, with two mosques and several houses hit, according to residents.

A joint operation by the Israel Defence Force (IDF), Israel’s domestic Shin Bet Security Service and the Special Police Unit in Rafah freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, the Israeli military said.

Har’s son-in-law, Idan Bergerano, has told Israel’s Channel 13 TV that he and his wife were able to see the released captives at the hospital, according to Associated Press.

Reuters is reporting that Hamas said in a statement that the strikes are a continuation of the ‘genocidal war’ and the forced displacement attempts Israel has waged against the Palestinian people.

US president Joe Biden is hosting Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Washington on Monday. The two leaders are expected to discuss the ongoing effort to free hostages held in Gaza, and growing concern over a possible Israeli military operation in the port city of Rafah, the Associated Press reports.

New Zealand has urged Israel to rethink a planned offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, according to reports from Australian Associated Press. On Monday afternoon, New Zealand’s prime minister, Chris Luxon, said: “Palestinian civilians cannot pay the price of Israel trying to defeat Hamas … There are 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah at the moment. We are extremely concerned about that.”

A vessel has reported coming under a missile attack off Yemen’s southern coast on Monday while transiting the strategic Bab al-Mandeb strait, security agencies have told Agence France-Presse.

Updated at 08.21 CET

A vessel has reported coming under a missile attack off Yemen’s southern coast on Monday while transiting the strategic Bab al-Mandeb strait, security agencies have told Agence France-Presse.

The incident occurred before 0400 local time (0100 GMT) in an area where Houthi rebels have repeatedly targeted Red Sea shipping in recent months, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said in a report.

“The crew are reported safe and the vessel is proceeding to next port of call,” UKMTO said.

Another security firm, Ambrey, said the Marshall Islands-flagged, Greece-owned bulk carrier “was targeted by missiles in two separate incidents” within 20 minutes and “was reportedly hit and sustained physical damage on the starboard side”.

The vessel had a private armed security team on board, Ambrey said.

At least 50 killed in Israeli strikes on Rafah, say hospital officials

Hospital officials in Rafah say at least 50 people have been killed in the Israeli airstrikes that accompanied a hostage rescue operation, according to Associated Press.

Dr Marwan al-Hams, director of the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital, said Monday the dead included women and children. An Associated Press journalist also counted the bodies brought to hospital.

The Israeli military said it rescued two hostages held in the territory in a raid that was backed up by Israeli strikes.

This is a developing story and we will bring you more when we have it

We’ve also had some images come in after the rescue of two Israeli hostages that were being held in Rafah by Hamas.

A helicopter ferrying Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Har, according to the IDF, arrives at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv. Photograph: Israel Defense Forces/ReutersThese are pictures of Fernando Simon Marman (left) and Louis Har (right) before they were taken during the 7 October attacks. The Israeli military says they have now been freed in a special forces operation. Composite: Bring Them Home/ReutersA woman in Tel Aviv takes a photo of a poster of Louis Har, one of the two hostages rescued. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

Updated at 08.21 CET

Here are some of the latest images coming to us from Rafah in the wake of those Israeli strikes on the southern city:

A member of the Palestinian Civil Defence works at the site of Israeli strikes in Rafah. Photograph: Palestinian Civil Defence/ReutersAttempts to put out a fire in the aftermath. Photograph: Palestinian Civil Defence/ReutersA member of the Palestinian Civil Defence looks under the rubble. Photograph: Palestinian Civil Defence/Reuters

New Zealand has urged Israel to rethink a planned offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, according to reports from Australian Associated Press.

On Monday afternoon, New Zealand prime minister Chris Luxon said:

Palestinian civilians cannot pay the price of Israel trying to defeat Hamas …

There are 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah at the moment. We are extremely concerned about that.

The UK, Germany, EU and Egypt are among those to issue similar statements of concern.

There is a discrepancy in the death toll being reported after the Israeli strikes in Rafah.

Israel launched a special forces operation that freed two Israeli hostages in Rafah amid airstrikes early on Monday.

Reuters is quoting local health officials as saying 37 people were killed and dozens wounded in the southern Gaza city.

Meanwhile Associated Press is quoting local hospital officials, who say the death toll is at least 16 Palestinians killed and 55 wounded in the overnight airstrikes.

Jordan’s King Abdullah expected in Washington for talks with Biden

US president Joe Biden is hosting Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Washington Monday.

The two leaders are expected to discuss the ongoing effort to free hostages held in Gaza, and growing concern over a possible Israeli military operation in the port city of Rafah, Associated Press reports.

It is the first meeting between the allies since three American troops were killed last month in a drone strike against a US base in Jordan. Biden blamed Iran-backed militias for the fatalities.

It was reported by Reuters earlier that King Abdullah participated in an airdrop of humanitarian aid to Gaza, according to the state-owned Al Mamlaka broadcaster.

A video showed the monarch in military gear on board a plane in the latest mission by the Jordanian air force to drop urgent medical supplies to field hospitals it runs in the war-torn territory. According to official media, the latest airdrop was on 6 February.

Updated at 07.24 CET

Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Har have been named as the two hostages rescued.

Har’s son-in-law, Idan Bergerano, has told Israel’s Channel 13 TV that he and his wife were able to see the released captives at the hospital, according to Associated Press.

He said the two men appeared thin and pale, but were communicating well and aware of their surroundings.

Bergernano said Har told him immediately upon seeing him: “You have a birthday today, mazal tov.”

הותר לפרסום כי במבצע משותף של צה”ל, שב”כ ומשטרת ישראל (ימ”מ) ברפיח, חולצו הלילה שני חטופים ישראלים, פרננדו סימון מרמן (60) ולואיס הר (70) אשר נחטפו על ידי חמאס לרצועת עזה מניר יצחק ב-7/10>> pic.twitter.com/SOVNoiRWqI

— צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) February 12, 2024

Hamas has commented on the Israeli strikes in Rafah

Reuters is reporting that Hamas said in a statement that the strikes are a continuation of the ‘genocidal war’ and the forced displacement attempts Israel has waged against the Palestinian people.

The Israeli military says it has rescued two hostages during the strikes. Israeli military spokesperson Lt Col. Richard Hecht said an airstrike was carried out to allow the forces to be extracted after the rescue, according to Reuters.

Monday’s raid included at least 15 airstrikes, flares and Apache helicopter fire, witnesses told Associated Press. It was not clear how many of the strikes were linked to the hostage rescue.

Hecht said the operation was based on “precise intelligence,” and that the site, located on the second floor of a building, had been watched for some time.

He said Netanyahu joined Israel’s military chief and other top officials as the raid unfolded.

Updated at 06.31 CET

Israel rescues two hostages as airstrikes hit Rafah

Israel carried out a special forces operation that freed two Israeli hostages in Rafah while striking the southern city.

Local health officials from the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry say airstrikes early on Monday killed 37 people and wounded dozens. The bombing caused widespread panic in Rafah as people were asleep when they started, according to residents contacted by Reuters using a chat app. Some feared Israel had begun its ground offensive into Rafah.

Israeli planes, tanks and ships took part in the strikes, with two mosques and several houses hit, according to residents.

A joint operation by the Israel Defence Force (IDF), Israel’s domestic Shin Bet Security Service and the Special Police Unit in Rafah freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, the Israeli military said.

This photo provided by the Israeli military shows an Israeli air force helicopter carrying two released hostages, at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel on Monday. Photograph: AP

The two men, who were kidnapped by Hamas from Nir Yitzhak kibbutz during the 7 October attacks were said to be in a good condition and taken to the Tel Hashomer Medical Complex, the military said.

“It was a very complex operation,” Israeli military spokesperson Lt Col. Richard Hecht said. “We’ve been working a long time on this operation. We were waiting for the right conditions,” reports Reuters.

The hostages were being held on the second floor of a building that was breached with an explosive charge during the raid, which saw heavy exchanges of gunfire with surrounding buildings, Hecht said.

At the same time, an airstrike was carried out to allow the forces to be extracted, he said.

US President Joe Biden told prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that Israel should not launch a full military operation in Rafah without a credible plan to ensure the safety of the roughly 1 million people sheltering there, the White House said.

Updated at 08.21 CET

Welcome and opening summary

It’s 6:58am in Gaza and Tel Aviv. I’m Reged Ahmad and welcome to our latest blog on the continuing Middle East crisis, I’ll be with you for the next while.

Israel has carried out a special forces operation into Rafah that’s freed two Israeli hostages amid airstrikes, early on Monday. The airstrikes caused widespread panic in Rafah as many people were asleep when they started, Reuters reports.

Local health officials say 37 people were killed and dozens wounded in the southern Gaza city – which has been described as a ‘safe’ zone in the past.

More on that in a moment but first, here’s a summary of the main developments so far:

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, suggested that “enough” of the 130 or so remaining Israeli hostages held in Gaza are alive to justify Israel’s ongoing war in the region. Asked how many of the hostages are still alive, Netanyahu said “enough to warrant the kind of efforts that we’re doing”. “We’re going to try to do our best to get all those who are alive back and, frankly, also the bodies of the dead,” he said in an interview with ABC’s This Week programme. Israel has previously said it believes 31 of the 136 hostages being held in Gaza are dead.

Separately, Netanyahu told Fox News Sunday he had not spoken to Joe Biden since the US president made remarks earlier this week about Israel’s military response in Gaza being “over the top”. The comments come as Israel faces growing international warnings over its planned offensive in Rafah.

The UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, said he was “deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah – over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering in the area”.

Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip over the past few days have killed two Israeli hostages and seriously injured eight others, Hamas’ armed-wing Al Qassam Brigades said over the group’s Telegram channel.

Any Israeli ground offensive in Rafah on the Gaza border will “blow up” the hostage exchange negotiations, Hamas-run Aqsa television channel quoted a senior Hamas leader as saying.

Israeli forces have discovered a tunnel network hundreds of metres long and running partly under the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine’s (UNRWA) Gaza headquarters, the military said, calling it new evidence of Hamas exploitation of the main relief agency for Palestinians.

The cousin of a six-year-old Palestinian girl who died in Gaza after her family’s car appeared to come under fire from Israeli tanks has told how he spoke to her as she waited to be rescued and said he was haunted by her last words.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said Israeli forces have prevented oxygen from reaching the al-Amal hospital for over a week, resulting in the deaths of three patients. The PRCS said Israel has also not provided medical equipment, and continues to block the delivery of fuel for the hospital’s electricity generators, despite the fuel supply running out in two days, risking a shutdown. The IDF has now posted on its X account that it has allowed oxygen through.

A total of 28,176 Palestinians have been killed and 67,784 have been injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since 7 October, the Gaza health ministry said in a statement on Sunday. An estimated 112 Palestinians were killed and 173 injured in the past 24 hours, the ministry added.

The US military said it struck more devices and missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen that were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea.





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