In a complex overnight operation, Israeli special forces rescued two hostages from Hamas captivity in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip early Monday, marking the first successful extraction of captives held by the terror group in months.
The Israel Defense Forces said that Fernando Marman, 61, and Louis Har, 70, were in good condition after being rescued, following an operation that involved battles with Hamas terrorists and massive Israeli airstrikes in Rafah. Both were later reunited with their families in an Israeli hospital and were said to be in good condition.
The pair had been abducted from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on the morning of October 7, when Hamas-led terrorists killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in a murderous rampage in southern Israel.
It was only the second such successful operation of its kind since October 7. The first was the rescue of soldier Ori Megidish in late October. In early December, the IDF attempted to rescue another hostage, but he was killed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the operation “among the most successful rescue operations” in Israel’s history.
The joint operation by the police’s elite Yamam counterterrorism unit, the Shin Bet security agency, and IDF began at around 1 a.m. in Rafah, an area that Israeli forces had not yet maneuvered into during their ground offensive against the Hamas terror group.
IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Yamam officers “carried out a very complex action on the premises and the second floor where the hostages were held.”
“Reaching the target in the heart of Rafah was very complex,” Hagari said.
He said the forces breached the apartment with explosives at 1:49 a.m., killing the three terrorists guarding the hostages and “hugged and protected Louis and Fernando with their bodies.”
“The troops pulled Louis and Fernando out of the apartment and rescued them under fire, until they reached the safe zone,” Hagari said.
The IDF later released footage from the air showing the rescuers entering a building and strikes hitting the area.
Fighting also broke out in several adjacent buildings, with massive airstrikes carried out against Hamas terrorists in the area of the rescue operation at 1:50 a.m., Hagari said.
“There was intense firepower from the air. Fire was opened from nearby buildings. The Air Force struck intensively there,” he said.
In an earlier update, before the rescue operation was announced, the IDF said it had carried out a wave of airstrikes against “significant” targets in the Shaboura area of Rafah.
At the same time, the Navy’s Shayetet 13 commando unit and 7th Armored Brigade also provided cover for the extraction.
Hagari said “many terrorists were eliminated tonight in this action,” including at least three in the building where the hostages were held. Hamas claimed that around 100 people were killed.
Within an hour of being extracted, Marman and Har were taken in armored vehicles out of Rafah, then put in a military helicopter that brought them to Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan for examination, where both were listed in good condition.
The two rescued hostages were able to meet with their families at Sheba Medical Center. Marman, from Kfar Saba, is a handyman who often helped residents of the kibbutz with anything they needed fixed. Har has four children, 10 grandchildren and is a lover of theater.
Louis Har’s son-in-law Idan Bejerano told Channel 12 it was a “surrealistic” feeling to see the family’s hopes and prayers fulfilled.
“Shortly after 3 a.m. I came back from the airport because my son had returned from abroad. I got home, I was about to go to sleep, and after 15 minutes there was a call… They said, ‘come he’s here.’”
“There were hugs, tears. Not many words,” he said. “It seems he was very worried about us all.”
Asked on his first impressions of the pair, Bejerano said, “They’re both in bed at the hospital. It’s difficult to know, but they look whole. Whether they’re healthy in spirit, in body, is still hard to know. But they look whole.”
“It seems they had strength of spirit for these 128 days, to remain strong and to come back to us.”
He noted that neither is young, with Har turning 71 in a few weeks, and Marman having marked his 61st birthday in captivity.
Netanyahu met with officers involved in the operation later Monday, feting the successful rescue according to a statement from his office.. “This was one of the most successful rescue operations in the history of the State of Israel. You eliminated the kidnappers, the terrorists and made your way back to Israel unscathed – a perfectly executed operation,” said Netanyahu, whose brother Jonathan was killed during a rescue operation to free Israeli hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.
Hagari said the IDF and Shin Bet had been working on the rescue plans “for a long time” before they launched the attempt, which was “based on sensitive intelligence.”
“This is an operation that we prepared for and were waiting for the conditions that would make it possible to carry it out,” he said.
One soldier was lightly injured in the operation, but beyond that, no Israelis were hurt.
“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.
The Shin Bet war room from which the operation was managed was crowded overnight, with the head of the security agency, IDF chief of staff, police commissioner, head of military intelligence, head of IDF operations, and the chief of the air force all managing the rescue. Later, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant joined the command center to observe the operation.
It is believed that 130 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, including in Monday’s operation, and the bodies of 11 hostages have been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.
The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 29 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.
Hamas is also holding two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively, as well as the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014.
“Even this morning, we don’t forget for a moment that 134 hostages are still being held in Gaza,” Hagari said.
“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,” he added in a message to the remaining hostages.
Marman, 61, and Har, 70, were taken hostage from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak to Gaza by Hamas terrorists on October 7, along with Clara Marman, 62, who is Marman’s sister and Har’s partner, their other sister Gabriela Leimberg, 59, and Gabriela’s daughter, Mia Leimberg, 17.
Mia Leimberg gained particular attention after it emerged that she had had her pet dog Bella with her for the duration of the captivity, and brought her back with her.
Marman, his sister Gabriela, and her daughter Mia were visiting the kibbutz for the Simchat Torah holiday weekend.
The extended family of five were hiding in their sealed room that morning, trying to keep the heavy door jammed shut with a chair. When the terrorists arrived and shouted at them to leave the room, they were sure they were about to be killed.
The rescue came with Netanyahu’s government under increasing pressure to agree to a truce with Hamas that would pause the fighting and pave the way for the hostages to be swapped for Palestinian prisoners, but has so far rebuffed the terror group’s demands, which include agreeing to a long-term ceasefire. The premier has vowed to eliminate the group, which rules Gaza and maintains that military pressure is necessary to free the remaining hostages.
In its first statement after the operation, Hamas railed against “the massacre the Israeli army conducted in Rafah tonight” and blamed the US “for giving the green light to Netanyahu.”
The terror group called the operation a continuation of the “genocidal war” and the forced displacement attempts against the Palestinian people.
Deaths of two soldiers announced
At the same time that the country woke to a hopeful morning with news of the rescue of two hostages, the IDF also announced the deaths of two soldiers during fighting in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis on Sunday.
Their deaths brought the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 229.
- Sgt. First Class Adi Eldor, 21, of the Commando Brigade’s Maglan unit, from Haifa.
- Sgt. First Class (res.) Alon Kleinman, 21, of the Commando Brigade’s Maglan unit, from Tel Aviv.
Another two Maglan soldiers were also seriously wounded on Sunday in southern Gaza.