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Israel Rescues 4 Hostages Taken in Hamas’ Oct. 7 Attack. At least 94 Palestinians Are Killed

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DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel on Saturday carried out its largest hostage rescue operation since the war with Hamas began, taking four to safety out of central Gaza as heavy fighting continued there. At least 94 dead Palestinians, including children, were brought to local hospitals, a health official said.

Israelis were jubilant as the army said it rescued Noa Argamani, 25; Almog Meir Jan, 21; Andrey Kozlov, 27; and Shlomi Ziv, 40, in a daytime operation in the heart of Nuseirat, raiding two locations at once and under fire. All were well, the military said. They were taken by helicopter for medical checks and reunions with loved ones after 246 days held.

Argamani had been one of the most widely recognized hostages after being taken, like the three others, from a music festival. The video of her abduction was among the first to surface, with her 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 video message released by the government, she tells him she is “very excited,” saying she hasn’t heard Hebrew in so long.

Netanyahu in a statement said “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.

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

The bodies of nearly 100 Palestinians killed were taken to Al-Aqsa Hospital, where spokesperson Khalil Degran told The Associated Press more than 100 wounded also arrived. 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.

“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.

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

A U.S. hostage cell provided advice and support throughout the process of locating and rescuing the hostages, according to a Biden administration official. The official, who was not authorized to comment and requested anonymity, declined to offer further detail on the American involvement. The hostage cells are multi-agency teams.

“We won’t stop working until all the hostages come home and a cease-fire is reached,” U.S. President Joe Biden said.

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.

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.

“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,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

Netanyahu faces growing pressure to end the fighting in Gaza. Many Israelis urge him to embrace a deal Biden announced last month, 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.”

___

Mednick and Jeffrey reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.

 

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