Israeli army says four captives rescued amid heavy strikes on Gaza

Army says four captives rescued in central Gaza raid are in ‘good medical condition’ as Palestinian officials report dozens of casualties in Israeli attack in same area.

Andrey Kozlov, 27, left, and Almog Meir Jan, 21, two of four hostages who were kidnapped in a Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7, 2023, and were just rescued, arrive by helicopter to the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, Saturday, June 8
Andrey Kozlov, 27, left, and Almog Meir Jan, 21, two of four captives who were just rescued, arrive by helicopter to the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, Saturday [Tomer Appelbaum/AP Photo]

The Israeli military says its forces have rescued four captives from central Gaza as it escalated its assault across the besieged and bombarded territory.

The announcement about the raid in Nuseirat on Saturday came as Palestinian health officials said at least 210 people were killed and wounded in Israeli attacks on central Gaza. Local residents said Nuseirat had come under heavy Israeli drone and air raids, with children among those killed.

The army said the four captives – Noa Argamani, 25; Almog Meir Jan, 21; Andrey Kozlov, 27; and Shlomi Ziv; 40 – had been taken from a music festival during the attack Palestinian group Hamas led in southern Israel on October 7.

They were in “good medical condition” and were taken to hospital for medical checks following a “complex daytime operation”. They were rescued in two separate locations in the heart of Nuseirat, it said. Israeli police said commander Arnon Zamora was killed in the mission.

However, commenting later on Saturday, the spokesperson of Hamas’s Qassam Brigades, Abu Obaida, said that other captives had been killed during the rescue operation.

Saturday’s operation was the largest recovery of live captives since October 7, bringing the total of rescued captives to seven. Last week, the Israeli military had said that 120 captives remained in Gaza, including 41 that the army believed were dead.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said forces were “operating under heavy fire in the most complex urban environment in Gaza” when they rescued the captives.

He called the operation “one of the most heroic and extraordinary operations I have witnessed over the course of 47 years serving in Israel’s defense establishment”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office released a video of him meeting the rescued captives at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv. He later hailed the rescues as “an operation that will be written in history”.

“We’re committed to getting the release of all the hostages, and we expect Hamas to release them all, but if they don’t, they’ll do whatever it takes to get them all back home,” Netanyahu said during a brief address.

None of the Israeli officials mentioned the dozens of Palestinians who were killed as part of the operation, said Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Jordan’s Amman because the Israeli government has banned Al Jazeera from reporting from Israel.

“The Israelis are simply not talking about the cost of this operation and they will not talk about it because they want to spin this as a success. Netanyahu was under tremendous amount of pressure, and the Hostages [and Missing] Families Forum is very clear that the ceasefire is the best and most sensible option to get all the captives that are still in Gaza back.”

‘Brutal attack’

The Ministry of Health in Gaza released images of bloodied patients, including children, lying in the corridors of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir el-Balah after the Israeli military claimed targeting “terrorist” infrastructure in what appeared to be part of the rescue operation.

In a statement, Gaza’s Government Media Office said the Israeli army had launched “an unprecedented brutal attack” on the Nuseirat refugee camp, “leaving dozens of martyrs and wounded in the streets” and continuing “its aggression against all areas of the Central Governorate [Deir el-Balah]”.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told the Reuters news agency after the Israeli army’s announcement that “regaining four captives after nine months of fighting is a sign of failure not an achievement”.

Israeli attacks on Gaza since the start of the war have killed at least 36,801 people and wounded 83,680, with thousands more missing under the rubble and presumed dead. Israel launched its assault after the Hamas-led attack during which about 1,140 people were killed and some 240 taken captive.

Hamas released almost half the captives in return for the release by Israel of dozens of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, in a deal brokered by Qatar and the United States that allowed for a brief truce in November.

For its part, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, an Israeli group that has pressured the government to do more to return captives, hailed the rescue on Saturday as “heroic”.

However, it again called on Israeli leaders to honour their “commitment to bring back all 120 hostages still held by Hamas”.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Paris, France, US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron both welcomed the rescues.

They also renewed calls for both Israel and Hamas to embrace a US-backed proposal that would see a halt in fighting in exchange for the release of the remaining captives, and could potentially spell a full end to the fighting.

“We won’t stop working until all the hostages come home and a ceasefire is reached,” Biden said.

He did not mention the Palestinian toll of the rescue operation. Biden also did not reference reports by the New York Times and Axios that a US team based in Israel had provided intelligence and logistical support for the mission.

Change of plans for Gantz

The rescue mission forced Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz to delay what had been a planned statement he was due to give on Saturday, in which he was expected to announce his resignation from Netanyahu’s government.

Gantz was an opposition politician who joined the government after Hamas’s October 7 attack. He is widely seen as an alternative to Netanyahu as prime minister, and had given the Israeli leader a deadline to provide a day-after strategy for Gaza. That deadline passed on Saturday.

Spokespeople for Gantz did not give a new time for his address.

The news website Axios reported that Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, had avoided announcing that his speech was postponed until after the operation to rescue the Israeli captives had taken place, so as not to alert Hamas.

While Gantz’s departure would not bring down Netanyahu’s government, it would be a significant blow, and further add pressure to the embattled prime minister.

On Saturday, Netanyahu called on Gantz not to leave the government.

“Don’t give up on unity,” he wrote on X.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies