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The Israeli military said today it had freed two hostages during a raid by special forces in Gaza’s southern Rafah neighbourhood, near Egypt.
The hostages were taken to Sheba hospital in central Israel, a statement from the hospital said, and were confirmed by doctors to be in “good condition”.
Israeli strikes on Rafah killed more than 52 people and wounded dozens, according to local health officials earlier today, after US President Joe Biden told Israel not to attack Rafah without a credible plan to protect civilians.
Heavy bombing caused panic in Rafah as many people were asleep when the strikes started, said 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.
The Israeli military said it had conducted a “series of strikes” on southern Gaza that have now “concluded,” without providing further details.
US President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a call on Sunday that Israel should not launch a military operation in Rafah without a credible plan to ensure the safety of the roughly 1 million people sheltering there, the White House said.
Mr Biden and Mr Netanyahu spoke for about 45 minutes, days after the US leader said Israel’s military response in the Gaza Strip had been “over the top” and expressed grave concern over the rising civilian death toll in the Palestinian enclave.
Mr Netanyahu’s office has said that it had ordered the military to develop a plan to evacuate Rafah and destroy four Hamas battalions it says are deployed there.
Mr 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 the region.
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The US Defence Secretary, Lloyd Austin, who is fighting prostate cancer, has transferred his duties to his deputy Kathleen Hicks, hours after he was taken to hospital for an “emergent bladder issue”.
“At approximately 4:55pm today US time, Secretary Austin transferred the functions and duties of the office ... to Deputy Secretary of Defence Kathleen Hicks. The Deputy Secretary of Defence has assumed the functions and duties,” Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said in a statement, adding that Mr Austin was still receiving treatment and that the White House and Congress had been informed.
I spoke to Israeli Defense Minister Gallant about post-conflict planning for Gaza, the need to increase humanitarian assistance for Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and West Bank stabilization efforts. I reiterated the need to protect civilians as Israel conducts its operations…
At least 52 people were killed in heavy air strikes on densely crowded Rafah in southern Gaza before dawn on Monday, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
AFP journalists and witnesses heard an intense series of strikes and saw smoke billowing above the city, which now hosts more than half of Gaza’s total population after they fled bombardment elsewhere on the Strip.
The strikes hit 14 houses and three mosques in different parts of Rafah, according to the Hamas government.
The Israeli military said in a statement on Monday that it had “conducted a series of strikes on terror targets in the area of Shaboura in the southern Gaza Strip”, adding that the strikes had concluded.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered his army to prepare a ground offensive on Rafah, Gaza’s last major population centre that troops have yet to enter after Hamas’s October 7 attacks sparked the war.
The Israeli military announced early Monday that two hostages taken by Hamas during its October 7 attacks were rescued in an overnight operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.
The military said in a statement that “during a joint IDF (military), ISA (Shin Bet security agency), and Israel Police operation in Rafah, overnight, two Israeli hostages were rescued, Fernando Simon Marman, aged 60, and Louis Har, aged 70, who were kidnapped by the Hamas terrorist organisation on October 7th from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak”.
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