Israeli military rescues 4 hostages; more than 200 Palestinians killed, Gaza health officials say

Israeli security forces rescued four hostages, among them Noa Argamani, the face of Oct. 7’s abductees, during a daytime raid in central Gaza on Saturday in an operation enclave officials said killed scores of Palestinians.

The rescued hostages are Argamani, 25; Almog Meir Jan, 21; Andrey Kozlov, 27; and Shlomi Ziv, 40, according to a statement issued by the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Securities Authority and the Israel Police.

They were among those kidnapped by Hamas during the Nova music festival on Oct. 7.

They were transferred to the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Center near Tel Aviv, where authorities say they are in “good medical condition.”

The United States provided intelligence in support of the operation, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the matter. The New York Times first reported the U.S. role.

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The rescues took place amid an attack on the central Gaza town of Nuseirat, home to a refugee camp and the community where the four hostages had been stashed, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Gaza’s Ministry of Health said 210 people were killed and another 400 were injured in the assault and rescue operation. It’s unclear how many were civilians. Observers and organizations based outside the war zone generally condemned the bloodshed.

Almog Meir Jan as he arrives by helicopter to the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, on Saturday. Tomer Appelbaum / AP

Andrey Kozlov, 27, left, had recently immigrated to Israel from Russia when he was abducted. Tomer Appelbaum / AP

The news the four hostages’ liberation was received with jubilation in Israel. On a beach in Tel Aviv, crowds cheered as lifeguards announced the news over a loudspeaker, reading their names one by one.

A video circulating on social media showed Argamani as she reunited with her father. She also spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone conversation following her rescue. “I’m very excited,” she said. “I haven’t spoken Hebrew in such a long time.”

Yan Gorjaltsan, a friend of Argamani’s from their hometown of Be’er Sheva, told NBC News he and a group of friends were on their way to Tel Aviv to see her. “This is the happiest days of our lives,” he said. “You can’t believe how we’re feeling.”

United Nations Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese said in a statement the rescues “should not have come at the expense of at least 200 Palestinians, including children, killed and over 400 injured.”

The Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the wider attack by Israeli forces as a “horrific massacre” at a refugee camp.

Video from an NBC News crew on the ground captured the aftermath in Nuseirat that included a rush of wounded at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, including the bodies of surviving children wrapped in gauze that was soaked pink.

In the wake of the rescues, the bloodied and burned bodies of Palestinian adults and children were scattered on the town’s streets. Video showed bodies piled up near the doorway of one home.

Cars smoldered, the charred bodies of their passengers remaining to mark the time they were attacked, as people wandered Nuseirat streets in search of missing loved ones and children carried dead peers away.

Hospitals, already short on supplies, were overwhelmed. In a statement, Doctors Without Borders called the situation at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital “a nightmare.”

The organization said its physicians were at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital and Nasser Hospital “to treat an overwhelming number of severely injured patients, many of whom are women and children.”

Chris Hook, a Doctors Without Borders official in Nasser, said in the statement that the facility where he’s based saw 50 casualties from the attack in one hour.

The organization Medical Corps said in a statement the attack has left it “overwhelmed,” as it has received 220 cases, 40 described as critical, “with patients arriving every minute,” at its field hospital in central Gaza.

In a briefing, Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Daniel Hagari said they’re aware of “about under 100” Palestinian casualties, but he doesn’t know “how many from them are terrorists,” Reuters reported.

The IDF said its forces came under fire during the operation, and one officer was injured and later died.

Palestinians inspect the destruction following an operation by the Israeli Special Forces in the Nuseirat camp. Israeli special forces rescued four hostages Saturday from the refugee district in the centre of the Gaza Strip, the army said. Omar Naaman / Picture-alliance/dpa via AP

The rescue came as pressure was building for Netanyahu to strike a deal for the release of the hostages, with thousands of people protesting regularly in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which advocates for the release of the hostages, called the rescue a “miraculous” triumph, adding that the government should “bring back all 120 hostages still held by Hamas,” and called on Hamas to accept the cease-fire deal proposed by President Joe Biden that would include a release of the hostages remaining in Gaza.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid called the rescue “a great light in a terrible darkness” and welcomed the hostages back.

Argamani, a data science engineering student, was captured on video screaming as she was carried away on the back of a motorcycle, in a roughly 10-second clip that became a symbol of Israel’s hostage crisis.

For her loved ones, efforts to free her felt like a race against time, as her mother, Liora, has terminal brain cancer. Argamani turned 26 while in captivity. Her boyfriend, Avinatan Or, is believed to remain in Gaza.

Almog Meir Jan was released from military service months before the attack, according to the Times of Israel. He tried to flee the festival with a friend, but only made it a short distance before he was captured.

Shlomi Ziv in an undated photo from the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. AP

Shlomi Ziv was working as a security guard at Nova and had called his sisters while attempting to flee.

Andrey Kozlov recently moved to Israel from Russia, and had also been working as a security guard at the festival.

Saturday’s operation is the second time the IDF has rescued hostages alive from Gaza since Oct. 7. In February, two hostages were rescued from the southern city of Rafah during an overnight mission.

In May, the bodies of three hostages were recovered from the Jabalia camp in northern Gaza.

Hamas captured some 240 hostages during the Oct. 7 attacks that ended with roughly 1,200 dead inside Israel. About half of the hostages were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November and Israel says more than 120 remain, with about a quarter of those believed dead.

Israel declared war in the wake of Oct. 7’s incursion by Hamas militants that ended with 240 people abducted and roughly 1,200 dead inside the country.

Israel has taken the war to Hamas’ strongholds in Gaza and swept civilians into the maelstrom, displacing 2 million people, most of the territory’s population, and contributing to the deaths of 36,731 people in Gaza, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health.

Israel has been under increasing pressure from the United States and other countries to increase the precision of its warfare, often conducted with American hardware, and reduce civilian casualties.

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