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Israel cheers rescue of 4 hostages as Hamas says raid killed 274

BI Desk || BusinessInsider

Published: 01:23, 10 June 2024  
Israel cheers rescue of 4 hostages as Hamas says raid killed 274

Photo: Collected

Israelis on Sunday cheered the rescue of four hostages from war-torn Gaza while Palestinians counted the cost, with Hamas officials saying 274 people were killed and hundreds wounded during the daytime raid.

Special forces fought heavy gun battles with Palestinian militants on Saturday in central Gaza's crowded Nuseirat refugee camp area as they swooped in to free the captives from two buildings and then flew them out by helicopters.

The Israeli military said the extraction team and captives came under heavy gun and grenade fire, which killed one police officer, while Israel's air force launched strikes that reduced nearby buildings to rubble, reports BSS/AFP.

The Hamas-run Gaza Strip's health ministry said 274 people were killed in what it labelled the "Nuseirat massacre", updating an earlier toll of 210 from the government media office which said the fatalities included many women and children, figures that could not be independently verified.

The health ministry said 698 people were wounded.

"My child was crying, afraid of the sound of the plane firing at us," said one Gaza woman, Hadeel Radwan, 32, recounting how they fled the intense combat as she carried her seven-month-old daughter.

"We all felt that we wouldn't survive," she told AFP, condemning "this brutal occupation that will not let us live".

Many Israelis shed tears of joy when they heard of the release of the four captives, all reported in good health -- Noa Argamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41.

The four had been abducted from the Nova music festival during Hamas's October 7 attack when video footage showed gunmen taking away Argamani on a motorbike as she cried "Don't kill me!"

The army released footage of the freed captives embracing their family members, and the government press office showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting them in hospital.

Israel's leading dailies, Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom, showed Argamani embraced by her father on their front pages under the same simple headline: "Home".

Financial newspaper Calcalist hailed a "heroic operation" that had given Israelis "a few hours of grace", while the left-leaning Haaretz daily called the rescue operation a "morale boost" for the nation.

- Renewed clashes -

Hamas's Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades claimed that other hostages were killed during the rescue operation, without providing details or proof, and warned that conditions would worsen for the remaining captives.

"The operation will pose a great danger (for) the enemy's prisoners and will have a negative impact on their conditions," spokesman Abu Obaida wrote on the Telegram channel.

Israel's top diplomat rejected unspecified accusations "of war crimes" in the operation.

"We will continue to act with determination and strength, in accordance with our right to self-defence, until all of the hostages are freed and Hamas is defeated," Foreign Minister Israel Katz said.

Latest fighting saw four members of one family killed when an air strike hit their house in Gaza City's Al-Daraj area, according to Al-Ahli hospital medics.

Israel helicopters were also firing east of the Bureij camp, witnesses told AFP.

And heavy artillery shelling from Israeli army tanks hit central and northern areas of Rafah, said officials in the southern city.

The four freed hostages are among only seven that Israeli forces have managed to rescue alive since Palestinian militants seized 251 in their October 7 attack.

Dozens were exchanged in a November truce for Palestinian prisoners. After Saturday's rescue operation, 116 hostages remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 of them are dead.

US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz were among leaders who greeting their release even as they have also called for a truce.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell welcomed the hostage release and said reports "of another massacre of civilians are appalling... the bloodbath must end immediately".

- Blinken heads to Middle East -

Biden on May 31 launched a new push for a ceasefire and hostage release deal involving US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators, but without any tangible results so far.

Hamas has insisted on a permanent truce and full Israeli withdrawal from all parts of Gaza -- demands that Israel has firmly rejected.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit the Middle East from Monday for his eighth regional tour since the October 7 attack, with stops planned in Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar.

Blinken on Saturday insisted that "the only thing standing in the way of achieving this ceasefire is Hamas. It is time for them to accept the deal."

The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after the October 7 attack on southern Israel that 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 37,084 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory's health ministry.

"This horror must stop," UN chief Antonio Guterres said on Saturday, when he detailed that 135 workers of the UN agency for Palestinians had died in the war, the world body's highest toll in any conflict.

The war has brought widespread devastation to Gaza and displaced most of its 2.4 million inhabitants, while a siege has driven many to the brink of starvation.

Aid has arrived only sporadically by truck, airdrop and sea shipment.

The US military said that a temporary pier that had suffered storm damage late last month had been rebuilt and used on Saturday to deliver about 492 tonnes of "much needed humanitarian assistance".

Amid the death and suffering, Israel has faced growing diplomatic isolation, with international court cases accusing it of war crimes.

Thousands marched again through London on Saturday calling for a ceasefire, while protesters outside the White House again decried Washington's support for Israel.