Four hostages seized at Nova festival freed in Gaza raid (2024)

Alex Therrien

BBC News

Reporting from

London

Hugo Bachega

Middle East correspondent

Reporting from

Tel Aviv

  • Published

Four hostages kidnapped by Hamas have been reunited with their families, after being rescued in a raid that Palestinian officials say killed scores of people.

Noa Argamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andrei Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41, were freed on Saturday, eight months since being kidnapped from the Nova music festival on 7 October.

Israeli forces, backed by air strikes, fought intense gun battles with Hamas in the Nuseirat area, in what the Israel Defense Forces called a "high-risk, complex mission".

Palestinian officials say women and children were among those killed in the military assault.

Two hospitals in Gaza, al-Aqsa hospital and al-Awda hospital, said they had counted 70 bodies between them, while Hamas's government media office said at least 210 people had been killed in Israeli strikes in and around the al-Nuseirat refugee camp.

Israel estimated there were fewer than 100 casualties, IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said.

Images from the area show intense bombardment, and hospitals there said they were overwhelmed with casualties, including children, and that they were unable to treat everyone. Other photos show people mourning the dead.

'Precise intelligence'

The rare rescue of hostages - a joint operation conducted by the IDF, Israel Security Agency and Israel Police - comes eight months into war with Hamas in Gaza.

IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said the mission was based on "precise" intelligence and the hostages were freed from two separate buildings in Nuseirat.

Israeli forces came under fire during the operation, he said. One special forces officer was wounded in the Gaza hostage rescue and later died in hospital, Israeli police said.

The IDF said the released hostages were all in good health, and they were later pictured embracing family members at a medical centre near Tel Aviv.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Israeli forces for operating "creatively and bravely".

"We will not let up until we complete the mission and return home all the hostages - both those alive and dead," he added.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said special forces operated "under heavy fire" when rescuing the four hostages.

"This is one of the most heroic and extraordinary operations I have witnessed over the course of 47 years serving in Israel’s defence establishment," Mr Gallant said.

The US also provided intelligence support to Israel in the raid, according to the BBC's partner CBS News which cited two American officials.

They added that US forces did not take part in the operation and the temporary pier in Gaza - which has now resumed aid deliveries after being damaged by heavy seas - was not used in the operation.

Image source, Reuters

Miss Argamani, a Chinese-born Israeli citizen, was kidnapped from the Nova festival and harrowing video footage from 7 October showed the 26-year-old being taken away on the back of a motorbike screaming, "Don't kill me!"

Fresh video of her being reunited with her father, smiling and embracing him on board a vehicle, was broadcast soon after news of the rescue operation on Saturday.

Mr Kozlov, a Russian who moved to Israel in 2022, and Mr Ziv had both been working as security guards at the festival when they were kidnapped.

Mr Jan had been due to start a job at a large tech company the day after he was kidnapped.

The Hostages Families Forum Headquarters, a group representing the families of the hostages, described the rescue as “a miraculous triumph” and thanked the IDF for the “heroic operation”.

The group added: “The Israeli government must remember its commitment to bring back all 120 hostages still held by Hamas — the living for rehabilitation, the murdered for burial.”

Image source, Reuters

Image source, Getty Images

While there was jubilation in Israel, images and video showed death, injury and destruction in the area, including around the al-Nuseirat refugee camp.

According to BBC Verify, it appeared that Israeli strikes took place across several locations in central Gaza, but Nuseirat - the location of the IDF operation to release four hostages - seems to have been hit hardest.

One video from the al-Aqsa hospital shows numerous people with injuries lying on the floor, while other videos showed a frequent stream of new patients being driven in by car and ambulance and carried into the building.

The Hamas government media office said at least 400 were wounded in the densely-populated area.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called for an emergency United Nations Security Council session to discuss what he has called "the bloody massacre that was carried out by the Israeli forces" in and around the al-Nuseirat refugee camp.

The European Union's high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell said on X: "Reports from Gaza of another massacre of civilians are appalling.

"We condemn this in the strongest terms. The bloodbath must end immediately."

Gantz's expected resignation postponed

The rescue of hostages comes amid efforts for a ceasefire and hostage release deal between Israel and Hamas.

Mr Netanyahu has been urged to reach an agreement but faces opposition from far-right allies who say military action is the only way to bring the hostages back.

Saturday’s operation is the most successful rescue of hostages by the Israeli military in this war – and could change the calculation of a prime minister who is under increasing pressure.

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz cancelled a news conference which had been scheduled for Saturday.

It comes amid speculation Mr Gantz would quit having previously threatened to resign from the war cabinet if Mr Netanyahu did not approve a post-war plan for Gaza by 8 June.

World leaders, including US President Joe Biden, France's Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have welcomed the news of the hostage rescue.

In response to the military offensive in Nuseirat, Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh said Israel could not force its choices on the group.

He said the group would not agree to a ceasefire deal unless it achieved security for Palestinians.

During its 7 October attacks in southern Israel Hamas killed about 1,200 people and took some 251 people.

Some 116 remain in the Palestinian territory, including 41 the army says are dead.

A deal agreed in November saw Hamas release 105 hostages in return for a week-long ceasefire and some 240 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

On Saturday, the Hamas-run health ministry said the death toll in Gaza is now 36,801 people.

Image source, Reuters

Related Topics

  • Israel-Gaza war
  • Gaza

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