Israeli special forces in Gaza launched a hostage rescue operation in the southern city of Rafah before dawn local time.
Here is how the events unfolded.
1.49am Monday (11.49pm Irish time Sunday)
Israeli commandos use explosives to force entry to a building in central Rafah, where Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, taken hostage by Hamas militants on 7 October, are being held on the second floor.
Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari says troops fight a “daring battle” with “heavy exchanges of fire” with their Palestinian militant captors.
The operation, dubbed “Golden Hand”, is guided by army chiefs, police and the Shin Bet from the headquarters of the internal security agency.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant watch the operation via a video live stream.
Residents in Rafah are shaken out of their sleep by heavy bombardment.
In the minutes that follow, AFP reporters on the scene hear “dozens of strikes” and explosions in several locations in the city.
The Israeli strikes allow the “force’s disengagement and to strike Hamas terrorists in the area”, the army said.
Israeli commandos “extracted Louis and Fernando from the apartment and evacuated them under fire, accompanied by IDF forces who provided them protection in the Rafah area until they reached a safe zone”.
Video footage shows an Israeli military helicopter carrying hostages who were freed during a raid by special forces in Rafah, Gaza. The hostages, two men who were captured by Hamas on 7 October, were in good condition, according to the military | https://t.co/zyZvk5MbXp pic.twitter.com/zok6Wc08Nm
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) February 12, 2024
Doctors give them an initial medical examination before a helicopter flies them to the Sheba Medical Centre in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, for further tests.
Hamas announces that more than 50 Israeli air strikes killed at least 52 people and injured dozens more in Rafah.
According to witnesses and Palestinian security sources, six houses and two mosques were most heavily targeted, and the bombing left multiple deep craters.
Louis Har’s family receives a phone call from the Israeli authorities.
“They told us that Fernando and Louis are in our hands, to come and see them at the hospital,” says Idan Bejerano, Louis Har’s son-in-law.
“In shock”, the family jumps into a car and leaves for the hospital. The two rescued men, both in bed, “seemed well”, says Bejerano.
He says there were “a lot of tears, hugs, not many words”.
Israeli forces announce the rescue to the Israeli public.
Rear Admiral Hagari says in a statement: “This was a complex rescue operation under fire in the heart of Rafah, based on highly sensitive and valuable intelligence”.
Hamas condemns the attack, saying it killed nearly 100 people.
After dawn, local Palestinian residents survey the large bomb craters and rubble after the intense overnight battle.
One of them, Abu Suhhaib, says the fighting had made him feel “as if hell had opened”.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hails “our brave fighters for the daring action” that led to the men’s release, and vows to push on with military offensive to rescue other captives.