Israeli Forces Free Four Hostages After Central Gaza Attack

(Bloomberg) -- The Israeli military freed four hostages held by Hamas in Gaza on Saturday as part of a major assault on the central city of Nuseirat. At least 210 Palestinians, including children, were killed in heavy fighting, the Hamas-run government media office said.

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The rescued hostages — a woman and three men — were in good health and had been transferred to an Israeli hospital for further checks, the military said. They were identified as Noa Argamani, 25, Almog Meir Jan, 21, Andrey Kozlov, 27 and Shlomi Ziv, 40.

“Noa, Almog, Andrei and Shlomi, how good to have you back with us,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant wrote on X. “In a heroic operational activity, our fighters managed to free four hostages from Hamas captivity and bring them home to Israel.”

The forces acted “under heavy fire,” Gallant said, pledging to continue to fight for the return of the remaining hostages. Israel’s police and border guard said a member of its counterterrorism unit was killed.

Ismail Hanieh, a Hamas leader, issued a statement condemning the “massacres.” Videos of bloodied bodies at a nearby hospital were circulating on social media.

Argamani was the hostage seen begging for help from the back of a motorcycle in a widely seen video from the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. Her mother is Chinese and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had appealed to the Chinese government to intervene on her behalf.

All four were kidnapped from a music festival in southern Israel when thousands of Hamas operatives broke across the border, killing 1,200 and abducting 250 others. Saturday’s operation marked the first rescue of live hostages since February, when Israeli forces brought home two older men, while a November exchange freed more than 100.

It’s not clear how many of the remaining hostages are alive. They are thought to number in the dozens.

On Saturday, the four hostages had been rescued in raids on two different buildings in a residential neighborhood, military spokesman Daniel Hagari said. The operation had been in the planning for weeks and involved hundreds of soldiers and members of intelligence and police, backed by the Israeli air and naval forces, he added.

Israel has been waging a war against Hamas in Gaza for eight months and the death toll is more than 36,000, according to Hamas, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and fighters. The group is considered a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.

Following the rescue of the four hostages, Benny Gantz, an opposition leader who joined Netanyahu’s war cabinet, said he would delay making a statement after he had previously threatened to leave the war cabinet on Saturday, easing pressure on Netanyahu at a critical moment for his coalition.

Thousands of Israeli beachgoers in Tel Aviv learned about the rescue in announcements from lifeguard stations, prompting spontaneous cheers and dancing.

Hagari told journalists that the forces who carried out the rescue had practiced on models of the two buildings.

“It needed to be like a brain operation, so precise,” he said. “It was on a civilian street with trucks and cars and many civilians.”

He said planners decided to carry out the operation in daylight to maximize the surprise since the expectation would be for a nighttime raid.

Hagari said the three men were being held in one building and Argamani at a separate one 200 meters (656 feet) away. They were watched by armed guards and held in civilian buildings so as to make it impossible to rescue them without causing civilian casualties.

When the Israeli forces left the buildings with the hostages, he said, they came under heavy fire from civilians outside, causing Israeli air and other forces to return fire. He acknowledged casualties at about 100 but said it wasn’t known how many were civilians.

Hagari said most of the rest of the hostages aren’t being held in conditions that would allow such an operation and the way they’ll be returned will be through a deal with Hamas being negotiated with the help of the US, Egypt and Qatar. Talks on that deal are expected to resume in coming days.

--With assistance from Galit Altstein.

(Updates with new Palestinian death toll in first paragraph.)

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