IDF operation rescues 4 hostages amid deadly assault, over 200 Palestinians killed

Israeli forces conducted a large-scale rescue mission, freeing four hostages from Gaza while over 200 Palestinians, including children, were killed in the process.

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Israel conducted its largest hostage rescue operation since the start of the latest war with Hamas, freeing four hostages from central Gaza in a heavy air and ground assault. At least 210 Palestinians, including children, were killed during the operation, according to a Gaza health official.

The rescued hostages were Noa Argamani, 26; Almog Meir Jan, 22; Andrey Kozlov, 27; and Shlomi Ziv, 41. All were taken from a music festival during the October 7 attack by Hamas. The Israeli military said the hostages were freed from two locations in the Nuseirat refugee camp. The hostages were taken by helicopter for medical checks and reunited with their families after 246 days in captivity.

Argamani’s abduction became widely recognized due to a video showing her being taken by motorcycle while screaming, “Don’t kill me!” Her mother, Liora, who has brain cancer, had pleaded in a video to see her daughter. Israel’s Channel 13 reported that Argamani was moved to the hospital where her mother is treated. Argamani expressed her excitement to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying she hadn’t heard Hebrew in a long time.

Netanyahu vowed to continue fighting until all hostages are freed, calling the operation “daring in nature, planned brilliantly, and executed in an extraordinary fashion.” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant echoed this sentiment.

Israeli aircraft hovered overhead as the bodies of 109 Palestinians, including 23 children and 11 women, were brought to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital. More than 100 wounded also arrived at the hospital. Khalil Degran, a spokesperson for the hospital, stated that 210 dead had been taken there and to Al-Awda Hospital.

“The horrific massacre committed today by Netanyahu and his fascist government against the Palestinian people in Gaza, which led to the slaughter of 210 and more than 400 wounded so far, under the pretext of liberating those detained by the resistance, confirms what the resistance has said repeatedly: that Netanyahu doesn’t plan to reach an agreement to stop the war and free the captured Israelis peacefully,” said Bassem Naim, a senior Hamas official based in Lebanon.

AP reporters witnessed dozens of bodies being brought to Al Aqsa hospital from Nuseirat and Deir al-Balah areas, as smoke rose in the distance and armored vehicles rolled by. A baby was among the dead, and small children wailed, covered in blood. Bodies were placed on the ground outside, their feet bare, as more wounded were rushed in.

“My two cousins were killed, and two other cousins were seriously injured. They did not commit any sin. They were sitting at home,” said a relative in the chaos at Nuseirat refugee camp. Amid the destruction, a small child sat on a collapsed metal door, overwhelmed.

Neighboring Egypt condemned Israel’s attacks on the Nuseirat refugee camp, calling it a “flagrant violation of all rules of international law.” Jordan also condemned the attacks. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, called for an end to the bloodbath, noting reports of civilian deaths.

Israel’s military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, explained that military intelligence had determined some time ago that the hostages were held in two apartments, about 200 meters apart, in the heart of the Nuseirat camp. Forces had trained repeatedly on a model of the apartment buildings and moved in simultaneously in broad daylight, believing this ensured the best element of surprise. However, the rescuers came under heavy fire, including from gunmen firing rocket-propelled grenades. The military responded with heavy force, including aircraft support, to extract the rescuers and freed hostages.

A U.S. hostage cell provided advice and support throughout the process of locating and rescuing the hostages, according to a Biden administration official who requested anonymity. The U.S. Central Command clarified that no American-built pier, equipment, personnel, or assets were used in the Israeli operation.

Hamas took approximately 250 hostages during the October 7 attack, which killed about 1,200 people. About half of the hostages were released in a cease-fire in November. Around 120 hostages remain, with 43 pronounced dead. Survivors include about 15 women, two children under five, and two men in their 80s.

Saturday’s operation brought the total number of rescued hostages to seven. Two were freed in February, and one was freed after the October attack. Israeli troops have recovered the bodies of at least 16 others, according to the government.

The latest rescue has sparked divisions in Israel over the best way to bring hostages home. Many Israelis urge Netanyahu to embrace a cease-fire deal announced by U.S. President Joe Biden last month, but far-right allies threaten to collapse his government if he does.

Netanyahu’s support has fallen, but he rushed to the hospital to greet the freed hostages and released a stream of photos and videos of him meeting the families. Thousands of Israelis gathered for anti-government demonstrations and calls for a cease-fire agreement.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to return to the Middle East next week, seeking a breakthrough in cease-fire and hostage negotiations.

International pressure is mounting on Israel to limit civilian bloodshed in its war in Gaza, which has resulted in over 36,700 Palestinian deaths according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Palestinians also face widespread hunger due to the fighting and Israeli restrictions that have largely cut off aid.

Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet, had threatened to resign if the government didn’t adopt a new plan for the war in Gaza. He postponed an expected announcement after Netanyahu urged him not to step down.

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