Israel-Gaza war: hostages reunite with families following dramatic rescue operation

There were hugs and tears at Israel’s largest hospital as two Gaza hostages were reunited with their families after being rescued in a deadly military raid.

Luis Har, 70, and Fernando Simon Marman, 60, embraced relatives at Sheba hospital after being airlifted from Gaza’s southern city of Rafah on Monday.

Agence France-Presse journalists in Gaza saw the bodies of some of around 100 Palestinians killed in air strikes accompanying the rescue operation, according to a toll from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Speaking from the hospital near Tel Aviv where the two rescued men were undergoing medical tests, Har’s son-in-law described “a lot of tears, hugs, not many words”.

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Hostage Fernando Simon Marman, right, hugs a relative. Photo: Israel Defence Forces via AP

“Luckily for us, as a family, they were saved tonight. But I must say that the job is not done,” Idan Bejerano told journalists.

“It’s just another step towards bringing all the other” hostages home, he continued.

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Bejerano said the family had endured a “tough” and exhausting wait, trying to dispel rumours while militants released videos of some captives.

Dozens of press cameras filled the main hall of Sheba hospital, where patients were wheeled through by doctors.

Marman’s niece, Gefen Sigal Ilan, said she was still “shaking” from the news of her uncle’s rescue.

“When I saw him I couldn’t believe he was real,” the 36-year-old said.

She said the families of hostages will keep fighting for the release of some 130 captives Israel says remain in Gaza.

“I want to say we will not stop until all hostages are free,” said Ilan.

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Freed hostages Fernando Simon Marman and Luis Har after their rescue. Photo: Israel Defence Forces via Reuters

The two men were taken captive from kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in southern Israel, so close to Rafah that the raid to rescue them could be heard from the rural community.

“From two o’clock in the morning, we started hearing booms and noises,” said Moshe Schori, the kibbutz manager, adding that “we couldn’t sleep”.

“Only in the morning we saw on the news that they (Israeli forces) released two people who were in our kibbutz,” he added, standing outside the home from which they were snatched on October 7.

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Har was a resident of southern Israel’s kibbutz Urim, which did not come under attack that day.

One of his friends in Urim, Shabi, who did not provide his surname, said Har is “a simple, quiet guy who smiles all the time”.

Talks have been under way for weeks to secure a second truce in the four-month war, which would see more hostages freed in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

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Bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press on with the fight into Rafah, sparking international alarm for the 1.4 million Palestinians taking refuge there.

A week-long truce in November secured the release of more than 100 Gaza hostages, including several dozen captives who were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinians held in Israel.

Har’s partner and Marman’s sister, Clara Marman, was among those released during the truce, as were another sister, Gabriela Leimberg, and her 17-year-old daughter Mia Leimberg, according to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum campaign group.

Speaking hours after his Israeli-Argentinian relative was freed, Bejerano urged leaders to “be serious and strike a deal”.

“The Israeli people need the deal done. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, today,” he said.

The Forum also stepped up pressure on Israeli authorities to bring home the remaining captives.

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An overview of the hostage rescue operation. Photo: Israel Defence Forces via Reuters

“Their lives are at risk with each passing moment. The Israeli government must exhaust every option on the table to release them,” it said in a statement.

Arnon Afek, director of Sheba hospital, said medical checks were being done on the two hostages.

“The time they will stay depends on their (medical) results,” he said.

“There are not only physical issues but also psychological issues.”

A hospital spokeswoman later said the condition of the two freed hostages “remains stable”.

But “the signs of prolonged captivity and the lack of medical care during captivity are evident”, she told reporters.

During Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, militants seized around 250 hostages, according to an Agence France-Presse tally based on official Israeli figures. Israel says around 130 are still in Gaza, though 29 are thought to be dead.

The attack resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an Agence France-Presse tally based on official figures.

Israel has responded with a relentless offensive in Gaza that has killed at least 28,340 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll from territory’s health ministry on Monday.

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