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Hamas says more than 200 killed as Israel rescues four Gaza hostages

by Selinda Phenyo
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The Israeli rescue operation in Gaza's Nuseirat camp has left dozens killed, Hamas authorities say © Bashar TALEB / AFP

Hamas

Israel said its forces rescued on Saturday four hostages alive from a Gaza refugee camp where the Hamas-run government media office reported attacks left 210 Palestinians dead and hundreds wounded.

The Israeli military said the four were in “good medical condition”. They had been kidnapped from the Nova music festival during Hamas’s October 7 attack that sparked war with Israel, now in its ninth month.

Noa Argamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41, had been rescued from two separate buildings “in the heart of Nuseirat” camp in a “complex daytime operation”, the military said.

They were among 251 captives seized by the militants in their October attack on southern Israel. There are now 116 hostages remaining in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.

Footage posted on social media showed Argamani emotionally reuniting with her father after her rescue, as well as beachgoers erupting into cheers in Tel Aviv when a lifeguard announced the four had been freed.

A woman holds signs with pictures of Noa Argamani and another hostage held by Palestinian militants in Gaza during a demonstration for their release, in Tel Aviv in April 2024
A woman holds signs with pictures of Noa Argamani and another hostage held by Palestinian militants in Gaza during a demonstration for their release, in Tel Aviv in April 2024 © AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP/File

Campaign group the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which has pressed Israel’s government to reach a deal that would free the captives, hailed the rescue as a “miraculous triumph”.

The Hamas media office said “the number of victims from the Israeli occupation’s massacre in the Nuseirat camp has risen to 210 martyrs and more than 400 wounded”.

The Islamist group earlier accused Israeli forces of engaging in “brutal and savage aggression on Nuseirat camp”, with a Gaza hospital providing an initial death toll of 15 in heavy Israeli strikes in central areas of the territory, including Nuseirat.

Israeli police said an officer was mortally wounded during the rescue operation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the hospital treating the four rescued hostages
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the hospital treating the four rescued hostages © JACK GUEZ / POOL/AFP

It was carried out despite growing international pressure on Israel after a deadly strike on a UN-run school in Nuseirat where displaced Gazans were sheltering.

“The message this morning to Hamas is clear: we are determined to bring back home all the hostages,” military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said.

Hamas’s Qatar-based leader Ismail Haniyeh vowed to keep fighting.

“Our people will not surrender, and the resistance will continue to defend our rights in the face of this criminal enemy,” Haniyeh said in a statement.

Ceasefire ‘essential’

Pressure increased after troops retrieved the bodies of seven hostages from the Gaza Strip last month.

On Saturday Netanyahu said the security forces “have proven that Israel does not surrender to terrorism”. He pledged to return the rest of the captives.

His office also released a video of him speaking with Argamani on a mobile telephone.

She said she was “very excited” to return home, adding: “I haven’t spoken Hebrew in such a long time.”

Palestinians walk on the rubble of destroyed buildings following an operation by Israeli forces in the Nuseirat refugee camp, central Gaza
Palestinians walk on the rubble of destroyed buildings following an operation by Israeli forces in the Nuseirat refugee camp, central Gaza © Eyad BABA / AFP

US President Joe Biden welcomed the rescue operation, saying: “We won’t stop working until all the hostages are home and a ceasefire is reached. That’s essential to happen.”

He was speaking in Paris alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, who also congratulated the families for the release of the hostages.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the rescue “an important sign of hope”.

Near Nuseirat on Saturday, an AFP photographer saw scores of Palestinians fleeing the Bureij camp on foot, fearing further Israeli strikes.

People gather at the central Israeli hospital where four hostages were taken after their rescue from Gaza captivity
People gather at the central Israeli hospital where four hostages were taken after their rescue from Gaza captivity © JACK GUEZ / AFP

The operation came days after the Israeli strike on the Nuseirat school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which a Gaza hospital said had killed 37 people.

The military said it killed 17 “terrorists”.

UNRWA condemned Israel for striking a facility it said had been housing 6,000 displaced people.

Israel accuses Hamas and its allies in Gaza of using civilian infrastructure, including UN-run facilities, as operational centres — charges the militants deny.

‘Defenceless’

The war has brought widespread devastation to Gaza, with one in 20 people dead or wounded, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry. Most of Gaza’s 2.4 million inhabitants are displaced.

Israeli army handout picture showing Almog Meir Jan with his family after his release from Gaza captivity
Israeli army handout picture showing Almog Meir Jan with his family after his release from Gaza captivity © – / Israeli Army/AFP

In Gaza City, five people were killed overnight when an Israeli warplane bombed the Mhana family home, emergency services said.

Yussef al-Dalu said his neighbour’s house had been reduced to rubble.

“I know that only defenceless civilians live in this house who are not part of any resistance (group),” he told AFPTV.

The Hamas attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory military offensive has killed at least 36,801 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Gazans flee Bureij refugee camp, near Nuseirat, fearing Israeli bombardment
Gazans flee Bureij refugee camp, near Nuseirat, fearing Israeli bombardment © Eyad BABA / AFP

Seventy were killed in the past 24 hours, it said.

Israel faced growing diplomatic isolation, with international court cases accusing it of war crimes and several European countries recognising a Palestinian state.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced Saturday his government would suspend coal exports to Israel “until the genocide stops”.

US diplomacy

Netanyahu also faces pressure from within his right-wing government.

After the announcement of the hostage rescue, Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz cancelled a news conference that was scheduled for Saturday, his office said.

Gantz, a centrist former military chief, said last month he would resign if Netanyahu did not approve a post-war plan for Gaza by June 8.

A man holds a picture of freed hostage Almog Meir Jan outside a hospital in central Israel
A man holds a picture of freed hostage Almog Meir Jan outside a hospital in central Israel © JACK GUEZ / AFP

Latest efforts to mediate the first ceasefire in the conflict since a week-long pause in November appear to have stalled a week after Biden offered a new roadmap.

World powers and Arab states have backed the proposal that Biden said includes an initial six-week pause and hostage-prisoner exchange as well as stepped-up delivery of aid into Gaza.

Hamas has yet to respond. Israel has expressed openness to discussions but remains committed to destroying the Islamist group.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit Israel and key regional partners Egypt, Jordan and Qatar from Monday on his eighth Middle East trip since the war began.

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The Israeli rescue operation in Gaza's Nuseirat camp has left dozens killed, Hamas authorities say
The Israeli rescue operation in Gaza’s Nuseirat camp has left dozens killed, Hamas authorities say © Bashar TALEB / AFP

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