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Israel rescues 4 hostages taken in Oct. 7 Hamas attack

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — Israel on Saturday carried out its largest hostage rescue operation since the war with the Hamas militant group began Oct. 7, taking four to safety out of central Gaza amid the military’s heavy air and ground assault.

At least 210 dead Palestinians, including children, were brought to hospitals, a health official in Gaza 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.

Israel Palestinians

Andrey Kozlov, 27, left, and Almog Meir Jan, 22, kidnapped from Israel in a Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7, react Saturday after arriving by helicopter to the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel.

All four rescued hostages were well, the military said. They were taken by helicopter for medical checks and tearful reunions with loved ones after 246 days held.

The operation was “daring in nature, planned brilliantly, and executed in an extraordinary fashion,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said.

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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 hostage cells are multi-agency teams.

The families of several Israeli hostages, who were rescued in Gaza, were reunited with their loved ones Saturday in Israel.

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 said more than 100 wounded also arrived. He said overall, 210 dead were taken there and to Al-Awda Hospital, saying he spoke to its director. Al-Awda’s numbers couldn’t immediately be confirmed.

“The horrific massacre committed today by (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) 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 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.

Israel Palestinians

Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip arrive Saturday at al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah.

“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.

Neighboring Egypt and Jordan condemned Israel’s attacks on the Nuseirat refugee camp.

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

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

Israel Palestinians

Palestinians help a wounded man Saturday after Israeli strikes in Nuseirat refugee camp, Gaza Strip.

Militants took about 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.

Netanyahu vowed to continue the fighting until all hostages are freed. 

Israel’s Channel 12 said the rescue force went into the heavily populated Nuseirat camp and burst into the two apartments where the hostages were, killing the captors. One getaway vehicle was shot and they came under heavy fire. Additional forces moved in to rescue them, and Israel used heavy fire to get them out.

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 recovered the bodies of at least 16 others, according to the government.

Israel Palestinians

People wave Israeli flags Saturday as they celebrate after hostages who were kidnapped in a Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7 were rescued from Gaza Strip, at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel.

The latest rescue lifted some spirits in Israel as divisions deepen over the best way to bring home the hostages.

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. Still, 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 in captivity.

Israel Palestinians

Relatives and supporters of the Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group hold signs and a picture of rescued hostage Noa Argamani, calling for the release of remaining hostages Saturday during a protest in Tel Aviv, Israel.

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,” U.S. 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 Friday. More than 36,700 Palestinians have been 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 largely cut off the flow of aid.

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

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