Home News Israel’s operation to rescue four hostages progresses

Israel’s operation to rescue four hostages progresses

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The Israeli military’s mission to rescue four hostages was a rare operation that required weeks of planning and received final approval just minutes before it was to begin Saturday morning, according to Israeli officials.

Israeli special forces, backed by the army, intelligence and air force, raided two buildings hundreds of feet apart in a neighborhood in Nusserat, central Gaza. They brought back four hostages — Noah Agamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andrei Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41 — in good health. An officer from the police unit leading the raid was killed.

According to local health officials in Gaza, dozens of Palestinians, including women and children, were killed in the rescue operation. The Israeli military said they were targeting militants who posed a threat to Israeli troops as they tried to rescue the hostages. Neither the Israeli military nor Palestinian health officials provided specific figures on the number of civilians and fighters killed in the attack.

Israeli troops have swept through much of Gaza since launching a ground offensive in late October. But they have managed to rescue only seven hostages in three military operations, and about 120 captives remain in Gaza. Several proposed rescue operations were not pursued due to concerns that hostages or troops would be killed in the process, according to two Israeli defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operation.

Israeli special forces tried to rescue a hostage from Hamas in December, according to two defense officials. Israeli hostage Sahar Baruch Killed in the crossfire Two Israeli officers were seriously wounded.

Israeli intelligence was first informed that Ms. Agamemani was being held in an above-ground building near the Nusserat market area, according to a defense official. The official added that additional information received later indicated that three other hostages were being held in another building in the same area.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said Israeli officers had spent weeks preparing everything needed for the mission, adding that Israeli soldiers had trained intensively using mock-ups of buildings where hostages might be held.

“This was a mission in the heart of a civilian area, with Hamas deliberately hiding between civilians and houses where militants were guarding hostages,” General Hajari said. “We had to act to get these hostages home alive.”

Two Israeli defense officials said there had been several attempts over the past three weeks when it looked like the operation could be carried out, but all were called off before Israeli forces were ready to launch the mission.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Galant met again with senior defense officials to discuss the risks and possible scenarios of the operation, said a third Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said the country’s leaders approved the rescue operation that evening, but Admiral Hajari said it could still be called off at the last minute.

Admiral Hagari said that on Saturday morning, both military Chief of Staff Herzig Halevi and Ronan Bar, head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency, gave final approval minutes before the operation, which began around 11 a.m.

He added that they chose to act during the day and launch an attack on two buildings in Nusseirat in an attempt to catch Hamas off guard, as the militant group might have thought such an operation would take place at night.

Admiral Hajari said the attacks were carried out simultaneously in two buildings, with hostages being held in locked rooms surrounded by armed guards. In one building – where Ms. Agamani was being held – police managed to catch the Hamas kidnappers by surprise, he said. In the other building, Israeli forces engaged in a difficult firefight before reaching the three remaining hostages, he added.

Admiral Hajari said that when the prisoners were recovered, the officers announced over the radio that “the diamonds are in our hands,” using a designated code word.

They fled the building as Hamas militants opened fire and fired rocket-propelled grenades, General Hajari said, adding that officers used their bodies to shield the hostages in an attempt to protect them as Israeli planes carried out airstrikes in and around the area, targeting the militants.

Khalil Daklan, a local official at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir el-Balah, told reporters that many Palestinians were killed and wounded in the attack near the Nusseirat market, which he said was crowded with passers-by.

General Hajari said he was told the military was aware of Palestinian casualties in the operation but could not confirm how many were militants. He added that Hamas tried to fire at Israeli troops from behind civilians.

He added that it was “tragic” that “Hamas’ despicable tactics of using the people to fire at our troops” were “a tragedy”.

Gen. Hajari said the hostages were taken by car to two waiting helicopters. One of them carried Ms. Agamemani and the special forces officers. The second carried the remaining three hostages and a wounded police commander who later died of his wounds.

At around 1:30 p.m., the Israeli government announced that the four hostages had returned home.

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