Norberto Louis Har, 70 (left), and Fernando Simon Marman, 60, were rescued in a nighttime operation in Rafah. (Courtesy of the Hostages Families Forum)
Norberto Louis Har, 70 (left), and Fernando Simon Marman, 60, were rescued in a nighttime operation in Rafah. (Courtesy of the Hostages Families Forum)

In first since October, IDF rescues 2 hostages from Gaza

(JTA) — The Israeli military has rescued two hostages in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the second such rescue since Hamas took hundreds of Israelis captive on Oct. 7.

The overnight rescue operation, which was announced in the early hours of Monday morning, Israel time, comes as the Israel Defense Forces are shifting their focus to Rafah, a city on the border with Egypt where there are currently more than a million Palestinians. The rescue operation also comes as negotiations toward a ceasefire and hostage release have hit obstacles.

The two rescued hostages, Norberto Louis Har, 70, and Fernando Simon Marman, 60, were taken captive from the border community of Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. Hamas took some 250 hostages in total and killed approximately 1,200 Israelis in its attack, which launched the current war.

Three of their relatives were also taken captive: Clara Marman, Har’s wife and Marman’s sister; and Gabriela and Mia Leimberg, Marman’s sister and niece, respectively. All three of those relatives, in addition to Mia Leimberg’s dog, were released together in late November during a weeklong ceasefire when Hamas released more than 100 hostages, nearly all of them women and children, in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners.

At Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square on Monday, protest organizer Hovav Shemi celebrated the rescue as a “ray of light in all this darkness.” He removed posters bearing their photos from a display of those still held in Gaza, and moved them to a display of captives who have been released.

“Every sign and every picture that I take down, and every number that I update from the kidnapped square to the release square makes me feel a little better,” he said, standing in front of a large poster showing the number of people killed, captured and freed from each community on the Gaza border.

The hourlong rescue operation, which had been planned in advance, took place on the second floor of a building and involved airstrikes as well as ground combat, according to the Times of Israel. One Israeli soldier was lightly injured.

“Fernando and Louis, welcome home,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “I salute our brave fighters for the daring action that led to their release. Only continued military pressure, until total victory, will bring about the release of all of our hostages. We will not miss any opportunity to bring them home.”

The IDF previously rescued an additional hostage, soldier Ori Megidish, in late October. An estimated 134 hostages remain, including dozens thought to be dead. Israeli forces unintentionally killed three hostages in December, and Hamas has claimed that more have died in Israeli airstrikes.

Relatives of the captives have led protests in recent weeks pushing Israel’s government to reach another hostage release deal, but Hamas and Israel have yet to agree on terms. Nir Yitzhak resident Zair Haimi, whose nephew Tal Haimi was killed on the kibbutz on Oct. 7, told JTA at Hostage Square that the news of the rescue was outweighed by the reality that “just two out of 136 that were kidnapped were freed — there are still 134 to be saved.”

He added, “The politicians here need more killing and more fire and they don’t care about these hostages and that’s why we need to sit here and protest.”

After battling in Gaza City and Khan Younis, Israel is now preparing to attack Hamas forces in Rafah, where most of the enclave’s population is now sheltering. Israel has said it will allow civilians to evacuate before escalating its operations in the city. More than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry — a number Israel says is roughly one-third combatants. More than 200 Israeli soldiers have been killed in ground operations in Gaza.

Shira Odeh, a volunteer for the Hostages Families Forum, which advocates for the captives’ release, said, “I am happy, but joy is a big word, you know?”

She referenced the two Israeli soldiers whose deaths were announced on Monday morning alongside the news of the rescued hostages. “There are still 134 there, and two young men who have died and others injured,” she said.

Ben Sales
Ben Sales

Ben Sales is news editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Eliyahu Freedman

JTA correspondent