Israel rescues four hostages; Palestinians say 93 killed in Gaza airstrikes

People react outside a medical center, after the military said that Israeli forces have rescued four hostages alive from the central Gaza Strip on Saturday, in Ramat Gan, Israel on Saturday.

People react outside a medical center, after the military said that Israeli forces have rescued four hostages alive from the central Gaza Strip on Saturday, in Ramat Gan, Israel on Saturday. (Marko Djurica, Reuters)


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JERUSALEM — Israeli forces rescued four hostages held by Hamas since October in a raid in the central Gaza Strip on Saturday, while at least 93 Palestinians were killed in airstrikes in the same area, according to local medics.

It was not immediately clear if the hostage rescue and the Israeli air assault were part of the same operation, but both took place in Al-Nuseirat, a densely built-up and often embattled area in the eight-month-old war between Israel and Gaza's ruling Hamas.

An Israeli military spokesperson said the hostage rescue operation took place under fire in the heart of a residential neighbourhood, where he said Hamas had been hiding captives among Gaza civilians under guard by armed militants.

Israeli forces returned fire, including with airstrikes, the spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, added. One Israeli special forces soldier was killed during the operation, a police statement said.

Israel named the rescued hostages as Noa Argamani, 25, Almog Meir Jan, 21, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 40. They were taken to hospital for medical checks and were in good health, the military said.

They were all abducted from the Nova music festival during Palestinian militant group Hamas' deadly raid on Israeli towns and villages near Gaza on Oct. 7, an attack which precipitated the war in the besieged Hamas-run enclave.

Hamas's raid killed some 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities, and the subsequent fighting in Gaza has killed at least 36,801 Palestinians, according to an updated tally by the enclave's health ministry on Saturday.

Almog Meir Jan, a released hostage, reacts after the military said that Israeli forces have rescued four hostages alive from the central Gaza Strip on Saturday, in Ramat Gan, Israel.
Almog Meir Jan, a released hostage, reacts after the military said that Israeli forces have rescued four hostages alive from the central Gaza Strip on Saturday, in Ramat Gan, Israel. (Photo: Marko Djurica, Reuters)

Call to president

Palestinian militants took around 250 hostages back to Gaza on Oct. 7. There are 116 now left in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies, including at least 40 whom Israeli authorities have declared dead.

Israeli News 12 broadcast footage of Argamani reunited with her father, smiling and embracing him. Video of Argamani's kidnapping, showing her shouting "Don't kill me!" as she was driven into Gaza on a motorbike, had circulated soon after she was taken on Oct. 7.

A smiling Argamani was shown speaking on Saturday by phone to Israeli President Isaac Herzog from a hospital, where she was surrounded by family and friends, in footage released by the president's office.

"Thank you for everything, thank you for this moment," she said.

"I am so excited to hear your voice, it brings tears to my eyes ... welcome home," Herzog said.

A different picture unfolded back in Gaza, where Palestinian health ministry officials and local medics said that an Israeli military operation in Nuseirat had killed scores of people including women and children. The ministry did not say how many of the fatalities were combatants.

Ismail Al-Thawbta, the director of the Hamas-run government media office, told Reuters the number of Palestinians killed in Nuseirat and nearby areas had risen to 93.

Social media footage that Reuters could not immediately verify showed bodies spilling entrails onto bloodstained streets.

"It was like a horror movie but this was a real massacre. Israeli drones and warplanes fired all night randomly at people's houses and at people who tried to flee the area," said Ziad, 45, a paramedic and resident of Nuseirat, who gave only his first name.

The bombardment focused around a local marketplace and the Al-Awda mosque, he told Reuters via a messaging app.

"To free four people Israel killed dozens of innocent civilians," he said.

Emergency response teams were trying to ferry the dead and wounded to hospital in the nearby city of Deir al-Balah but many bodies were still lying in the streets, including around a market district, Ziad and other residents said.

Nuseirat, a historic Palestinian refugee camp, has been subjected to heavy Israeli bombing during the war and there has also been fierce ground fighting in its eastern areas.

The Gaza war shows no signs of slowing even as Israel's chief ally the United States presses for a ceasefire and a deal that would free the remaining hostages held by Hamas in exchange for releases of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

The war has destabilised the wider Middle East, drawing in Hamas's main backer Iran and its heavily armed Lebanese ally Hezbollah, which Israeli officials are threatening to go to war with on Israel's northern border.

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