Smoke billows during Israeli bombardment over Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday. AFP
Predawn Israeli strikes in the southern Gaza city of Rafah killed "around 100" people on Monday, the territory's Hamas-run health ministry said in a statement.
The statement revised upward the ministry's earlier toll of 52 people killed in the strikes on the city along the Egyptian border.
Israel launched a special forces operation that freed two Israeli hostages in Rafah amid air strikes early on Monday, which local health officials said killed 37 people and wounded dozens in the southern Gaza city.
A joint operation by the Israel Defence Force (IDF), Israel's domestic Shin Bet security service and the Special Police Unit in Rafah freed Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Hare, 70, the Israeli military said.
The two men were kidnapped by Hamas from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on Oct. 7, the military said.
A Palestinian mourns at Kuwait Hospital following Israeli bombardments over Rafah on Monday. AFP
"It was a very complex operation," Israeli military spokesman Lt Col. Richard Hecht said. "We’ve been working a long time on this operation. We were waiting for the right conditions."
The hostages were being held on the second floor of a building that was breached with an explosive charge during the raid, which saw heavy exchanges of gunfire with surrounding buildings, Hecht said.
"I'm very happy to announce that this night two released hostages landed here at Sheba medical center, Israel's largest hospital," said Prof Arnon Afek, director of Sheba general hospital. "They were received in our ER and initial examinations were conducted by our ER staff and they are in a stable condition and being tended to."
Israeli military said the air strike on Rafah coincided with the raid to allow its forces to be extracted.
The air strikes caused widespread panic in Rafah as many people were asleep when the strikes started, said residents contacted by Reuters using a chat app. Some feared Israel had begun its ground offensive into Rafah.
A Palestinian man carrying a child wounded in an Israeli strike sits inside an ambulance in Rafah on Monday. Reuters
Israeli planes, tanks and ships took part in the strikes, with two mosques and several houses hit, according to residents.
Hamas said in a statement that the attack on Rafah was a continuation of a "genocidal war" and forced displacement attempts Israel has waged against the Palestinian people.
U.S. President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that Israel should not launch a military operation in Rafah without a credible plan to ensure the safety of the roughly 1 million people sheltering there, the White House said.
Aid agencies say an assault on Rafah would be catastrophic. It is the last relatively safe place in an enclave devastated by Israel's military offensive.
Israel bombarded towns across southern Gaza on Tuesday with airstrikes, killing at least 45 Palestinians and pressing ahead with its offensive with renewed backing from the United States, despite rising international alarm.
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC) called on Israeli authorities to halt escalation and avoid exacerbating tension and instability in the region.
Since the conflict began on Friday, 31 Palestinians — including six children — have been killed, while 275 people have been wounded, said health authorities.
Hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians have fled south to Rafah since the outbreak of the war, with the former city of 200,000 now housing more than half of Gaza's two million-plus population, a WHO representative said on Friday.
The UN and other humanitarian actors have not yet declared a state of famine in Gaza, despite worsening conditions in the Palestinian territory since the war started with the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has called for a strong turnout, was the first to cast his ballot. He vote at a polling station in central Tehran, state television reported.
Friday's Hamas statement said the number of hostages killed as a result of Israeli military operations "may have exceeded" 70. The reason for the discrepancy was not clear.
The United States military will airdrop humanitarian assistance into Gaza, President Joe Biden announced on Friday, a day after witnesses say Israeli forces shot desperately hungry Palestinians crowding around a food aid truck.