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Israel rescues 4 hostages taken in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, and 210 Palestinians are reported


DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel on Saturday carried out its largest hostage rescue operation since the latest war with Hamas began, taking four to safety out of central Gaza in a heavy air and ground assault. At least 210 Palestinians, including children, were killed, a Gaza health official said.

Israelis were jubilant as the army said it freed Noa Argamani, 26; Almog Meir Jan, 22; Andrey Kozlov, 27; and Shlomi Ziv, 41, in a daytime operation in the heart of Nuseirat, raiding two locations at once while under fire. All were well, the military said. They were taken by helicopter for medical checks and tearful reunions with loved ones after 246 days held.

Argamani had been one of the most widely recognized hostages after being taken, like the three others, from a music festival. The video of her abduction showed her seated between two men on a motorcycle as she screamed, “Don’t kill me!”

Her mother, Liora, has brain cancer and had released a video pleading to see her daughter. Israel’s Channel 13 said Argamani was moved to the hospital where her mother is treated. In a message released by the government, Argamani told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu she was “very excited,” saying she hadn’t heard Hebrew in so long.

Netanyahu in a statement vowed to continue the fighting until all hostages are freed. The operation was “daring in nature, planned brilliantly, and executed in an extraordinary fashion,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said.

Israeli aircraft hummed overhead as the bodies of 109 Palestinians including 23 children and 11 women were taken to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, where spokesperson Khalil Degran told The Associated Press more than 100 wounded also arrived. He said that overall, 210 dead had been taken there and to Al-Awda Hospital, saying he had spoken to the director there. Al-Awda’s numbers couldn’t immediately be confirmed.

“The horrific massacre committed today by Netanyahu and his fascist government against the Palestinian people in Gaza, which led to 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 now based in Lebanon.

AP reporters saw dozens of bodies brought to Al Aqsa hospital from the Nuseirat and Deir al-Balah areas, as smoke rose in the distance and armored vehicles rolled by.

A baby was among the dead. 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,” one relative said in the chaos at Nuseirat refugee camp. As Palestinians explored the newly destroyed buildings, a small child sat on a collapsed metal door, overwhelmed.

Neighboring Egypt condemned “with the strongest terms” Israel’s attacks on the Nuseirat refugee camp, with its foreign ministry calling it a “flagrant violation of all rules of international law.” Neighboring Jordan also condemned it.

“The bloodbath must end immediately,” the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on the social platform X, noting reports of civilian deaths.

Israel’s military said it had attacked “threats to our forces in the area,” adding that one commando died from his wounds.

Israel’s military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, told reporters that military intelligence determined some time ago that the hostages were being held in two apartments, about 200 meters (219 yards) away from each other, in the heart of the Nuseirat camp. He said the forces had trained repeatedly on a model of the apartment buildings.

Hagari said the forces moved in simultaneously in broad daylight on both apartments, believing this ensured the best element of surprise. But he said the rescuers came under heavy fire as they moved out, including from gunmen firing rocket-propelled grenades from within the neighborhood.

“A lot of fire was around us,” he said, adding that the military responded with heavy force, including from aircraft, 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 was not authorized to comment and requested anonymity. The hostage cells are multi-agency teams.

Hamas took some 250 hostages during the Oct. 7 attack that killed about 1,200 people. About half were released in a weeklong cease-fire in November. About 120 hostages remain, with 43 pronounced dead. Survivors include about 15 women, two children under 5 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 in the aftermath of the October attack. Israeli troops have recovered the bodies of at least 16 others, according to the government.

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

Netanyahu, whose support has fallen, rushed to the hospital to greet the freed hostages and his office released a stream of photos and videos of him meeting the families. But thousands of Israelis again gathered Saturday evening for the latest anti-government demonstration and calls for a cease-fire agreement.

“It’s time to pay the price of a political deal. One deal that will bring them all back without risking soldiers,” said Omri Shtivi, whose brother Idan marked his 29th birthday Saturday while in captivity.

It was unclear what effect the rescue might have on apparently stalled cease-fire efforts. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return to the Middle East next week, seeking a breakthrough.

“The hostage release and cease-fire deal that is now on the table would secure the release of all the remaining hostages together with security assurances for Israel and relief for the innocent civilians in Gaza,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

International pressure is mounting on Israel to limit civilian bloodshed in its war in Gaza, which reached its eighth month on Friday with more than 36,700 Palestinians killed, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between fighters and civilians.

Palestinians also face widespread hunger because fighting and Israeli restrictions have largely cut off the flow of aid.

Meanwhile, Benny Gantz, a popular centrist member of Israel’s three-member War Cabinet who had threatened to resign from the government if it didn’t adopt a new plan by Saturday for the war in Gaza, postponed an expected announcement. Netanyahu urged him not to step down.

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Mednick and Jeffery reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Gaza at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war





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