June 22nd, 2024

Israel rescues 4 hostages kidnapped in a Hamas attack on Oct. 7. At least 55 dead in Gaza strikes

By Sam Mednick, Jack Jeffrey And Wafaa Shurafa, The Associated Press on June 8, 2024.

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel said Saturday it rescued four hostages who were kidnapped in a Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7, in the largest such hostage recovery operation since the war with Hamas began in Gaza.

Heavy fighting raged in central Gaza, where the hostages were rescued, and at least 55 people, including children, were killed in multiple attacks Saturday as people fled for safety, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

The army said it rescued Noa Argamani, 25; Almog Meir Jan, 21; Andrey Kozlov, 27; and Shlomi Ziv, 40, in two separate locations in a complex special daytime operation in the heart of Nuseirat in central Gaza.

Argamani, has been one of the most widely recognized hostages since she was abducted from a music festival in southern Israel. The video of her abduction was among the first to surface, images of her horrified face widely shared – Argamani detained between two men on a motorcycle, one arm outstretched and the other held down as she screams “Don’t kill me!”

Her mother, Liora, has stage four brain cancer and in April released a video pleading to see her daughter before she dies.

Hamas killed about 1,200 people and kidnapped some 250 hostages during the Oct. 7 attack, which triggered the Israel-Hamas war. About half were released in a weeklong cease-fire in November. Israel says more than 130 hostages remain, with about a quarter of those believed dead, and divisions are deepening in the country over the best way to bring them home.

The rescue comes as international pressure mounts 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. Seeking a breakthrough in the apparently stalled cease-fire negotiations between Israel and Hamas, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return to the Middle East next week.

Palestinians are facing widespread hunger because the war has largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and other supplies. U.N. agencies say over 1 million in Gaza could experience the highest level of starvation by mid-July.

Saturday’s operation is the largest recovery of alive hostages since the war erupted, bringing the total of rescued captives to seven.

Two men were rescued in February when troops stormed a heavily guarded apartment in a densely packed town, and a woman was rescued in the aftermath of October’s attack. Israeli troops have so far recovered at least 16 bodies of hostages from Gaza, according to the government.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called Saturday’s rescue “a heroic operation” and said the army will continue fighting until all the hostages are returned.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing growing pressure to end the fighting in Gaza, with many Israelis urging him to embrace a deal announced last month by U.S. President Joe Biden, but far-right allies threatening to collapse his government if he does.

Argamani spoke by phone with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Netanyahu. In an audio message released by the government, Netanyahu is heard asking Argamani how she’s feeling and said he hasn’t given up on the hostages. She tells him she is “very excited,” saying she hasn’t heard Hebrew in so long.

Her friend, Yonatan Levi, reacted to the news with a sense of disbelief. “Wow. Don’t know what to say. So excited such a crazy reality. So happy now and joyful,” Levi said.

The rescue comes as Israel is intensifying operations across central Gaza, where the hostages were rescued.

The bodies of the dozens of Palestinians killed Saturday were taken to Al-Aqsa Hospital, where they were counted by Associated Press reporters. They later saw more injured and dead arrive at the hospital from Nuseirat and the eastern Deir al-Balah areas, as plumes of smoke rose in the distance.

On Thursday, an Israeli airstrike hit a U.N.-run school compound in Nuseirat, killing over 33 people inside the school, including three women and nine children.

Israel said that some 30 militants were inside the school at the time and on Friday released the names of 17 militants it said were killed in the strike. However, only nine of those names matched with records of the dead from the hospital morgue. One of the alleged militants was an 8-year-old boy, according to hospital records.

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Shurafa reported from Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip.

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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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