The hostages, who had been held by Hamas, returned to Israel after a military operation that Gazan health officials said killed at least 67 Palestinians.
Israeli special operations forces raided a building in the southern Gazan city of Rafah early Monday and freed two hostages held by Hamas, the military said, as Israel launched a wave of attacks that killed dozens of Palestinians in the city, according to the Gazan health ministry.
The nighttime operation — only the second time Israeli forces said they had rescued captives in Gaza — prompted elation in Israel, where the fate of more than 100 people kidnapped during the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7 has become one of the country’s highest priorities.
But in Rafah, the raid fueled fear, mourning and panic among more than a million Palestinians who have crowded into the city, seeking refuge from Israeli military actions farther north. Palestinians feared that the raid presaged a full-fledged ground invasion into Rafah, and that the high death toll foretold much more mourning ahead.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has said that Israeli ground forces are preparing to enter Rafah with the goal of eliminating Hamas battalions there. The prospect of ground battles in the city, which is bracketed by a closed Egyptian border and invading Israeli forces, has created worldwide alarm over the risks to civilians who have nowhere else to flee.
The intensity of the rescue operation and the death toll made clear Mr. Netanyahu’s determination to press ahead with the southern offensive, despite criticism from the United States and other allies, and pressure to reduce civilian casualties and destruction.