Details have begun to emerge of an overnight Israeli military operation that freed two Israeli-Argentinian hostages held captive by Hamas in the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
Israeli forces carried out intense strikes in the area during the raid, which the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said killed dozens of people.
This is what we know so far about what happened.
Who are the freed hostages?
Hundreds of Hamas gunmen infiltrated southern Israel that day, killing 1,200 people and taking another 250 hostages back to Gaza. More than 28,100 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched a military campaign in response, according to the territory’s health ministry.
The two freed hostages were taken to Sheba Medical Center in central Israel, where they are said to be in good condition.
What does the Israeli army say?
The first clues that something was happening in Rafah were a series of intense Israeli strikes, which were reported shortly before 02:00 local time (00:00 GMT) on Monday and caused panic in a town that is home to the majority of the estimated residents. 1.7 million Palestinians displaced by the war.
At 12:50 a.m., the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed that it had carried out strikes on “terrorist targets” in the Shaboura neighborhood of Rafah.
In the morning, IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari provided more details on what he described as a “complex rescue operation under fire” for which Israeli commandos were preparing ” since a while “.
“Early in the morning, at 1:49 a.m., special forces broke into a building in the heart of Rafah,” he told a press briefing. “On the second floor, Louis and Fernando were detained by armed Hamas terrorists present in the building, as well as terrorists present in adjacent buildings.”
“From the moment of the breach and entry into the apartment, Yamam’s forces protected Louis and Fernando with their bodies, triggering a daring battle and fierce firefights simultaneously in several locations, with numerous terrorists. ”
Admiral Hagari added: “At 01:50, aerial fire was activated by the Israeli Air Force and the Southern Command, to enable the disengagement of the force and strike Hamas terrorists in the area.
“At this point, the forces extracted Louis and Fernando from the apartment and evacuated them under fire, accompanied by IDF forces who provided them with protection in the Rafah area until they reached a security zone.”
A soldier was slightly injured during the operation, according to Israeli media.
“I salute our courageous fighters for the bold action that led to their release. Only continued military pressure, until total victory, will result in the release of all our hostages,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement .
In late November, during a week-long ceasefire, 105 Israeli and foreign hostages were released by Hamas. Israel says 134 hostages remain held, although about two dozen of them are presumed dead.
What are the Palestinians saying?
Rafah residents said there was gunfire from attack helicopters and military ships in the early hours of Monday. At least two mosques and more than a dozen houses were reportedly affected.
Photos and videos taken in the Shaboura area in the morning showed a huge pile of rubble where several buildings were believed to have been destroyed during Israeli strikes.
Several large craters and remains of plastic tunnels could also be seen on nearby farmland.
“We were sleeping and suddenly we saw heavy gunfire, many gunshots, but we didn’t know what was happening,” resident Ziyad Seyam told the Reuters news agency. “There have been unimaginable strikes in the homes.”
Another man at the scene, Abu Abdullah al-Qadi, said his cousin was among those killed in the Israeli strikes.
“They stormed this building and it seems they released some prisoners and then they bombed it,” he told AFP. “They bombed all the houses nearby.”
Other photos and videos taken 1 mile (1.6 km) to the southwest showed that the al-Huda mosque, in the center of the city’s densely populated refugee camp, had been destroyed. A gaping hole was visible from the roof of the building.
Khaled al-Taweel said he saw Apache and Cobra helicopters attacking targets in the area, as well as F-16 jets and drones.
“So much terror. Something you have never seen. Not in Hollywood in the United States, not in Libya, not in Syria… Only in Rafah,” he told the news agency Reuters.
At the nearby Kuwait Specialist Hospital, a young Palestinian woman being treated for shrapnel wounds to her neck said her father was killed when a displaced persons camp was hit.
“We were in the tent, me and my whole family, when the bullets fell on us. My father went to see what was happening and said that there had been strikes, and a strike took place while “he was talking,” Mai al-Najjar told Reuters. .
Recent satellite images of where the hostages were being held showed small clusters of tents less than 100 m (330 feet) away.
A doctor at Kuwait’s specialist hospital said some of the victims brought there after the strikes had suffered traumatic amputations of their legs and hands, and that they included children, women and people elderly. Images from the facility also showed dead and injured children.
The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said in a statement Monday morning that at least 67 people had been killed and that number could rise as rescue and recovery operations continue.
Hamas described the attack as a continuation of Israel’s “genocidal war” against the Palestinian people, while the Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry condemned what it called an Israeli “massacre” in Rafah.