Israel rescues four hostages held captive by Hamas since Oct. 7 attacks

APTOPIX Israel Palestinians
Almog Meir Jan, 21, kidnapped from Israel in a Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7, 2023, raises his hands after arriving by helicopter to the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, Saturday, June 8, 2024. Israel says it has rescued four hostages in Gaza who were kidnapped in a Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Tomer Appelbaum)

Israel on Saturday rescued four hostages who were kidnapped in the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7, the largest such recovery operation since the war began. At least 94 Palestinians including children were killed as heavy fighting continued around the sites in central Gaza, the Health Ministry said.

Israel’s army said it rescued Noa Argamani, 25; Almog Meir Jan, 21; Andrey Kozlov, 27; and Shlomi Ziv, 40, in a complex daytime operation in the heart of Nuseirat on Saturday morning, raiding two locations at once and under fire. All were well, the military said, and they were taken by helicopter for medical checks and reunions with loved ones after 246 days in captivity.

Argamani had been one of the most widely recognized hostages after being abducted from a music festival in southern Israel. The video of her abduction was among the first to surface, with Argamani detained between two men on a motorcycle as she screamed, “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.

An elated Argamani spoke by phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a message released by the government, Netanyahu is heard asking how she’s feeling. She tells him she is “very excited,” saying she hasn’t heard Hebrew in so long.

Netanyahu in a statement said that “Israel does not surrender to terrorism and acts with creativity and boldness that knows no bounds to bring home our abductees.” He vowed to continue the fighting until all are freed.

This undated photo provided by the Hostages Families Forum Headquarters shows Noa Ar gamani. Israel says it has rescued four hostages who were kidnapped in a Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7.  It is the largest such hostage recovery operation since the war with Hamas began in Gaza. The army said it rescued Noa Argamani, 25; Almog Meir Jan, 21; Andrey Kozlov, 27; and Shlomi Ziv, 40, in a complex special daytime operation in Nuseirat. (Hostages Families Forum Headquarters via AP)

The bodies of nearly 100 Palestinians killed were taken to Al-Aqsa Hospital, where Khalil Degran told The Associated Press more than 100 wounded also arrived. AP reporters also saw the dead brought to the hospital from the Nuseirat and Deir al-Balah areas, as smoke rose in the distance.

“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 bloodied chaos at the hospital.

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

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 the age of 5 and two men in their 80s.

Saturday’s hostage recovery operation brings the total of rescued captives to seven. Two men were rescued in February and a woman was rescued in the aftermath of the October attack. Israeli troops have recovered at least 16 bodies of hostages, according to the government.

Palestinians evacuate dead and wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Deir al Balah on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)
Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip arrive at al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

The latest rescue was expected to lift spirits in Israel at a time when the war is dragging on and divisions are deepening over the best way to bring hostages home.

It was unclear what effect it 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.

Netanyahu faces growing pressure to end the fighting in Gaza. Many Israelis urge him to embrace a deal announced last month by U.S. President Joe Biden, but far-right allies threaten to collapse his government if he does.

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

Israel is intensifying operations across central Gaza, where the hostages were rescued. 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 some 30 militants were inside at the time and on Friday released the names of 17 militants it said were killed. 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.

Israel’s military on Saturday asserted that “Hamas is a terror organization that often uses fake documents disguising terrorists as women or children.”