DOHA/JERUSALEM - Israel freed two Israeli-Argentine hostages held by Hamas in Rafah on Feb 12 in a ferocious rescue operation which killed 67 Palestinians in the southern Gaza city where about one million civilians have sought refuge from months of bombardments.
The mission by the Israeli military, the Shin Bet security service and a special police unit, freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Hare, 70, the military said. They were among 250 people seized during the Oct 7 raid by Hamas militants that triggered Israel's war on Gaza.
More than four months on, much of the densely-populated strip of land on the Mediterranean is in ruins, with 28,340 Palestinians dead and 67,984 wounded, according to Gaza health officials, with many others believed to be buried under rubble.
The Israeli military says 31 hostages have died in that time, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday's rescue showed that military pressure should continue and he brushed aside international alarm at its plans for a ground assault on Rafah.
US President Joe Biden, who has becoming increasingly vocal that Israel should not carry out a ground offensive in Rafah without a plan to protect civilians, is scheduled on Feb 12 to meet Jordan's King Abdullah, who has been on a diplomatic tour of western capitals to push for a ceasefire.
A Reuters journalist at the scene in Rafah saw a vast area of rubble where buildings, including a mosque, had been destroyed. Israel says many of those killed are militants; the Gaza ministry says 70 per cent are civilians.
"I've been collecting my family's body parts since the morning, said Ibrahim Hassouna, as a woman knelt over the body of a young child nearby. "I only recognised their toes or fingers."
An Israeli military spokesman said the hostages were being held on the second floor of a building that was breached with explosives during the raid amid heavy exchanges of gunfire with surrounding buildings.
"We've been working a long time on this operatio...