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Israel launches more strikes on Rafah and frees two hostages – Boulder Daily Camera

Michael Heath, Ethan Bronner and Fadwa Hodali | Bloomberg News (TNS)

Israel launched more airstrikes on Rafah early Monday morning and freed two hostages, as international condemnation grows over a potential ground attack on the southern Gaza city, where more than one million people have sought refuge from the war against Hamas.

The hostages were freed overnight during a special-forces mission in Rafah. The men, both Israeli, have been transferred to Israel and are in good medical condition, the military said.

Israel launched “a series of strikes” on the Shaboura district of Rafah, the military said. Dozens of people have died so far, Palestinian media reported, citing health officials in Gaza.

The strikes came after U.S. President Joe Biden urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do more to shield civilians. Israel, Biden said, shouldn’t push into Rafah without a “credible and executable plan” for their safety and support.

Netanyahu spoke to Biden on Sunday and said Israel was working on a plan to move civilians out the area.

“Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying: ‘Lose the war, keep Hamas there,’” Netanyahu told American news channel ABC. “We are not going to let Hamas emerge victorious.”

The U.S. as well as European and Arab states have strongly criticized Israel for preparing to move ground forces into the city, which sits near Gaza’s border with Egypt.

Around half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people fled to or near Rafah at the start of the war, when Israeli forces concentrated on northern areas including Gaza City. More recently, the army has mainly focused on Khan Younis, a city to the north of Rafah.

Last week, Biden said Israel’s offensive on Gaza had been “over the top” and that there were “a lot of innocent people who are starving.”

“It’s got to stop,” he said.

An attack on Rafah “would lead to an unspeakable humanitarian catastrophe and grave tensions with Egypt,” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top foreign-policy official, said on Sunday. “Resuming negotiations to free hostages and suspend hostilities is the only way to avert a bloodshed.”

One Egyptian parliamentarian, Mostafa Bakry, widely seen as close to President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi, said Cairo had threatened to take the extraordinary step of suspending its 45-year-old peace treaty with Israel if it sends troops into Rafah.

Egypt is one of the few Arab states that formally recognizes Israel.

Netanyahu has insisted the war must continue until Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and EU, is destroyed.

The Israel-Hamas conflict began on Oct. 7 when terrorists from the Iran-backed group broke out of Gaza and swarmed southern Israeli communities, killing 1,200 people. Almost 28,000 people have been killed by Israel’s retaliatory air and ground attack on Gaza, according to health officials in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory.

Israel says it has killed 12,000 Hamas fighters.

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