Israel Rescues 4 Hostages in Military Operation; Gazan Officials Say Scores Are Killed (2024)

The freed hostages were transferred to a hospital in Israel.

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Israel Rescues 4 Hostages in Military Operation; Gazan Officials Say Scores Are Killed (1)

Israeli forces rescued four hostages who had been held in Gaza since the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7, the military said. The news of the operation in central Gaza on Saturday was met with jubilation in Israel, where fear for the fate of the roughly 120 remaining captives has been rising after eight months of war.

During the rescue operation, the Israeli air force struck the town of Nuseirat, where the hostages were rescued, and residents reported intense bombardments. Khalil Daqran, an official at a hospital, told reporters that dozens of Palestinians had been killed and that the hospital’s wards and corridors were packed with the wounded.

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Israel Rescues 4 Hostages in Military Operation; Gazan Officials Say Scores Are Killed (2)

Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman, told reporters that the rescue mission took place around 11 a.m. Saturday, when forces located the four hostages in two separate buildings where they were being held by Hamas militants in Nuseirat. He said the Israeli forces came under fire but managed to safely extract the hostages in two helicopters. An Israeli special forces police officer injured in the operation later died of his wounds, the Israeli police announced.

A team of American hostage recovery officials stationed in Israel assisted the Israeli military’s effort to rescue the four captives by providing intelligence and other logistical support, an American official said, speaking without attribution to discuss ongoing, sensitive operations.

The freed hostages — Noa Argamani, 26; Almog Meir Jan, 22; Andrey Kozlov, 27; and Shlomi Ziv, 41 — were kidnapped by Palestinian militants from the Nova music festival on Oct. 7. All four are in good medical condition and have been transferred to a hospital in Israel for further examination, the Israeli authorities said in a statement.

Roughly 250 people in Israel were abducted during the Oct. 7 assault, according to the Israeli government, including women, older people and young children. Some 105 of them were released during a weeklong truce in November. Israeli troops have brought home the bodies of around 19 others, including at least three unintentionally killed by Israeli troops.

Despite an eight-month military campaign in Gaza, Israel has struggled to free its hostages in bold rescue operations. The successful recovery of the four hostages raises the total number to seven, including a special forces raid in February in the southern city of Rafah that freed two Israelis held by Hamas and a raid in October that released one.

Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, hailed what he called a “complex operation” by Israeli soldiers, special forces and intelligence, who he said had “operated with extraordinary courage under heavy fire.”

Ms. Argamani’s abduction, in particular, became a symbol of the brutality of the Oct. 7 attack, in which an estimated 1,200 people were killed, according to Israeli officials. In a video from the scene, Palestinian assailants were seen driving Ms. Argamani away on a motorcycle as she cried for help and reached out to her boyfriend, Avinatan Or, as he was marched away.

Israel and Hamas have continued negotiations on a cease-fire that would see the release of the remaining hostages held in Gaza. The United States has sought to pressure both sides to reach an accord after President Biden gave a speech outlining what he called a phased Israeli truce proposal.

Aaron Boxerman and Rawan Sheikh Ahmad

Hospital officials say more than 200 people were killed in central Gaza.

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The Israeli operation to rescue four hostages in the town of Nuseirat in central Gaza on Saturday unleashed a heavy aerial bombardment and ground operations that killed more than 200 people, according to two hospital officials in the area.

Residents there said it was the heaviest onslaught they could recall during the eight-month-old war. One hospital official said Israel struck a busy market, and video footage from the immediate aftermath of the attack showed bloodied bodies on the ground in what appeared to be a market that was struck.

Other video footage showed people running for cover as a powerful airstrike exploded near them.

Dr. Khalil Daqran, the spokesman for Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in nearby Deir al-Balah, and Marwan Abu Nasser, the acting administrative director of Al-Awda hospital in Nuseirat, said their two hospitals had received a total of more than 200 dead and many of the wounded from the attack on Saturday. Many of those killed were women and children, the hospital officials said.

Israel’s military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, estimated the number of casualties to be under 100, without specifying whether these were dead or wounded or both.

The New York Times could not independently verify the death toll and it was not clear how many were civilians and how many were Hamas militants.

Hours later some of the dead had already been buried by their families while others had yet to be claimed, according to Dr. Daqran.

“The martyrs who have yet to be identified are still in the morgue. It is difficult to identify them,” he said. “It is difficult to identify them because some of the martyrs who arrived are nothing more than torn limbs from children and women and elderly.”

Tens of thousands of Palestinian residents of Gaza have fled to Nuseirat in recent weeks to escape Israeli bombardments in other parts of the embattled territory such as the southern city of Rafah, where Israel launched a new offensive recently.

Khaled al-Saadouni, a young man who witnessed the Israeli operation in Nuseirat, told Reuters he had seen Israeli special forces arrive in an Apache attack helicopter and he also saw a white car with Israeli forces.

“The Apache started to bomb and fire directly at people,” he said, according to Reuters, adding that there were many dead and injured. “People fled,” he said.

He said there were many displaced Palestinians sheltering in the area that came under attack.

“We brought 10 injured people in one ambulance. One of them was shot directly. We barely made it out through the alleyways,” he said.

Khitam Awad, a 35-year-old teacher, said she was at home teaching 25 young students and distributing gifts when the Israeli attack began nearby.

“We were near the strikes,” she told The New York Times. “We don’t know how we escaped unharmed.”

The strikes went on for two hours in an “insane way” and they couldn’t move from the house, she added. One of her colleagues, another teacher, later found out that two of her relatives had been killed. They huddled in one room with the students, she said, as around them homes were being struck.

“We were hearing the sound of the tanks,” Ms. Awad said. “Our nerves were frayed, we didn’t know what was happening around us, bombs and rockets and tanks.”

At Al Aqsa hospital, the wounded and bodies of those killed filled the wards and corridors, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

“The situation is catastrophic,” Dr. Daqran said. “We don’t have enough beds for all the wounded. We have five times as many injured than we have hospital beds.”

As a result, many of the dead and wounded had to be sent to another nearby hospital, Al Awda, in Nuseirat.

“Al Awda Hospital is a maternity hospital but it has been transformed to receive the injured that we don’t have space for in Al Aqsa hospital,” he said.

Mr. Abu Nasser, the acting administrative director of Al-Awda hospital, said the medical facility’s capacity to hold bodies was limited and by the end of the day, some 100 bodies that had been brought to the hospital had been taken for burial by family members.

“We’re a small hospital,” he said. “We simply don’t have the space.”

In a news conference outside Al Aqsa hospital, Dr. Daqran called on Palestinians in Gaza to donate blood and on the international community to help Gaza’s hospitals.

The flood of victims into the hospitals came at a time when the few still functioning hospitals in Gaza are struggling to continue operating as a result of continued Israeli strikes and a lack of medicine, medical equipment and overworked generators.

Bilal Shbair contributed reporting.

Raja Abdulrahim

Here’s how Israel’s mission to rescue four hostages unfolded.

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The Israeli military’s mission to rescue four hostages was a rare operation that required weeks of planning, and was given the final go-ahead just a few minutes before it commenced on Saturday morning, according to Israeli officials.

Israeli special forces, backed by the military, intelligence and air force, raided two buildings several hundred feet apart in a neighborhood in Nuseirat, in central Gaza. They brought home the four hostages — Noa Argamani, 26; Almog Meir Jan, 22; Andrey Kozlov, 27; and Shlomi Ziv, 41 — alive and in good medical condition. One police officer, part of the force that led the raid, was killed.

Scores of Palestinians, including women and children, were killed during the rescue operation, according to local Gaza health officials. The Israeli military said it had targeted militants who had threatened its forces as they sought to extract the hostages. Neither the Israeli military nor Palestinian health officials provided a breakdown of civilians and combatants killed in the raid.

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Israel Rescues 4 Hostages in Military Operation; Gazan Officials Say Scores Are Killed (3)

Israeli troops have swept through much of Gaza since their ground invasion began in late October. But they have managed to rescue only seven living hostages in three separate military operations, with roughly 120 captives remaining in Gaza. Several proposed rescue missions did not go forward for fear that the hostages or the forces would die in the process, according to two Israeli defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operation.

In December, Israeli special forces tried to rescue a hostage from Hamas captivity, according to the two defense officials. Sahar Baruch, an Israeli hostage, was killed during the exchange of fire and two Israeli officers were seriously wounded.

According to one of the defense officials, Israeli intelligence first learned that Ms. Argamani was being held in an aboveground building near the market area of Nuseirat. More information received later indicated that three other hostages were in another building in the same section, the official added.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, Israel’s military spokesman, said Israeli officers had worked for weeks to assemble the necessary pieces for the mission. Israeli soldiers trained intensively based on models of the buildings where the hostages were believed to be held, he added.

“This was a mission in the heart of a civilian neighborhood, where Hamas had intentionally hidden among homes where there were civilians and armed terrorists guarding the hostages,” Admiral Hagari said. “And we must act in a way that brings those hostages home alive.”

Over the past three weeks, there were several occasions when it seemed possible to carry out the operation, but all of the attempts were canceled, before Israeli forces were set to launch the mission, the two Israeli defense officials said.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, met with senior defense officials again to discuss the operation’s risks and the possible scenarios, said a third Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The country’s leaders greenlit the rescue mission that night, the official said. But it still stood a chance of being canceled at the last minute, Admiral Hagari said.

On Saturday morning, Herzi Halevi, the military’s chief of staff, and Ronen Bar, the director of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service, both gave the final go-ahead just a few minutes before the operation started around 11 a.m., Admiral Hagari said.

He added that they chose to move in the daylight, bearing down on the two buildings in Nuseirat, in an attempt to catch Hamas off guard since the armed group might expect such an operation to take place at night.

The raid started simultaneously in both buildings, where the hostages were in locked rooms surrounded by armed guards, Admiral Hagari said. In one building — where Ms. Argamani was being held — the officers managed to take her Hamas captors by surprise, he said. In the other, Israeli forces engaged in a difficult firefight before reaching the remaining three hostages, he added.

As they recovered the captives, the officers announced by radio that “the diamonds are in our hands,” using an assigned code word, Admiral Hagari said.

They exited the buildings with Hamas militants shooting at them and firing rocket-propelled grenades, Admiral Hagari said. The officers shielded the hostages with their bodies to try to protect them, and Israeli aircraft struck in and around the area, targeting the militants, he added.

Khalil Daqran, a local official at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al Balah, told reporters that many Palestinians were killed and wounded during strikes near the Nuseirat market, which he said had been packed with passers-by.

Admiral Hagari said that he had been told the military was aware of Palestinian casualties resulting from the operation, and that he could not confirm how many were militants. He added that Hamas had sought to fire at Israeli forces from behind civilians.

He added that “the cynical way that Hamas is using the population also to fire at our forces” was “tragic.”

The hostages were taken by car to two awaiting helicopters, Admiral Hagari said. One carried Ms. Argamani and the special forces officers. The second ferried the three remaining hostages and an injured police commander, who would later die from his wounds.

Around 1:30 p.m., the Israeli government announced that the four hostages were home.

Ronen Bergman and Aaron Boxerman

U.S. intelligence helped Israel rescue four hostages in Gaza.

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The U.S. provided intelligence on the hostages before Israel’s successful rescue operation Saturday, according to American and Israeli officials briefed on the assistance.

A team of American hostage recovery officials stationed in Israel assisted the Israeli military’s effort to rescue the four captives by providing intelligence and other logistical support, one American official said, speaking without attribution to discuss the sensitive operation.

Intelligence collection and analysis teams from the United States and Britain have been in Israel throughout the war, assisting Israeli intelligence in collecting and analyzing information related to the hostages, some of them citizens of both countries, according to a senior Israeli defense official familiar with the effort to locate and rescue the hostages.

Two Israeli intelligence officials said the American military officials in Israel provided some of the intelligence about the hostages rescued Saturday.

Speaking in Paris after meeting with Emmanuel Macron of France, President Biden said he welcomed “the safe rescue of four hostages that were returned to their families in Israel.”

“We won’t stop working until all the hostages come home and a cease-fire is reached,” he added, “and it’s essential.”

The Pentagon and the C.I.A. have been providing information collected from drone flights over Gaza, communications intercepts and other sources about the potential location of hostages. While Israel has its own intelligence, the United States and Britain have been able to provide intelligence from the air and cyberspace that Israel cannot collect on its own, the Israeli official said.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, celebrated the rescue, and referred glancingly at the American assistance.

“The United States is supporting all efforts to secure the release of hostages still held by Hamas, including American citizens,” Mr. Sullivan said in a statement. “This includes through ongoing negotiations or other means.”

Mr. Sullivan added that the cease-fire proposal currently being discussed by negotiators from Hamas, Israel, Egypt, Qatar and the United States would be the way to bring home the remaining hostages.

“The hostage release and cease-fire deal that is now on the table would secure the release of all the remaining hostages together with security assurances for Israel and relief for the innocent civilians in Gaza,” he said.

American officials have said their intelligence support for Israel is focused on the location of hostages and information about Hamas’s top leadership. In large measure this is because American officials believe the best way to persuade Israel to end the war is to get back its hostages and capture or kill top Hamas leaders.

The Israeli official said neither the American nor British teams were involved in the planning or execution of the military operations to rescue the hostages. Israelis, experts in hostage rescue, would have required little support in the tactical planning. But the American and Israeli officials said the outside intelligence did provide added value.

Julian E. Barnes,Ronen Bergman and Michael D. Shear

Who are the four hostages rescued by the Israeli military in Gaza?

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Four hostages abducted from the Nova music festival and held by militants in Gaza for the last eight months were rescued by Israeli forces on Saturday.

Since the Hamas-led terrorist attack on Oct. 7, Israel has freed only a small number of hostages through military force. Saturday’s rescues occurred in Nuseirat, in central Gaza, where health officials reported that dozens of Palestinians had been killed.

Here is what we know about the four hostages who were brought back to Israel.

Noa Argamani

Noa Argamani, 26, was taken hostage in the Oct. 7 attack alongside her boyfriend, Avinatan Or. Viral footage showed Ms. Argamani being taken into Gaza on the back of a motorcycle as she cried out in desperation.

Ms. Argamani and her boyfriend were abducted from the Nova music festival in southern Israel, where militants carried out brutal atrocities against partygoers. The fate of Ms. Argamani’s boyfriend is unknown.

The plight of Ms. Argamani received outsize attention, in part because her mother, Liora, has brain cancer and her condition has deteriorated significantly in recent months.

“I don’t know how much time I have left,” the mother said last year. “I wish to see my Noa at home.”

Andrey Kozlov

Andrey Kozlov, 27, was working as a security guard at the music festival when he was taken. He recently immigrated to Israel from Russia and was a resident of Rishon Lezion, a city in central Israel.

In January, Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, told Hamas officials that the release of civilians captured in the Oct. 7 attack, including Mr. Kozlov and two other Russian citizens, should be sped up, according to a statement from the Russian foreign ministry.

In footage shared on social media on Saturday, Mr. Kozlov could be seen smiling as he was escorted by troops from a military helicopter.

Almog Meir Jan

Almog Meir Jan, 22, was kidnapped a day before he was supposed to start a new job at a technology company, according to the Hostage Families Forum.

In December, Sky News aired an interview with his mother, Orit, who said that her son had called her on Oct. 7 at 7:45 a.m. and described the chaotic scenes unfolding at the festival site.

“Mom, they closed the festival,” she recalled him saying. “There are rockets and shooting everywhere.”

On Saturday, footage of Mr. Meir Jan’s family celebrating the news of his freedom was shared on social media. “I’m so excited,” his mother said.

Shlomi Ziv

Shlomi Ziv, 41, was working as a security guard at the festival. He is a resident of Elkosh, a community in northern Israel, where he lived with his wife, Miran, according to the Hostage Families Forum.

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Last year, Ms. Ziv said that she was certain he would return and that she was already preparing for the challenges of welcoming someone who had spent months in captivity.

“We will be receiving a person who we don’t know what he saw, what he experienced, what he knows and what he doesn’t know,” she told Seven10Stories, an initiative that has collected testimonials from survivors of Oct. 7. “This won’t be simple.”

Adam Rasgon Reporting from Jerusalem

At a weekly hostage rally in Tel Aviv, hope emerges with the return of four from Gaza.

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The photos of the missing that have become a fixture during weekly protests at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv were joined on Saturday by joyous videos showing four Israelis returning to their country and their families.

With hostage posters held aloft, thousands stood and applauded as footage showed Noa Argamani, 26; Almog Meir Jan, 22; Andrey Kozlov, 27; and Shlomi Ziv, 41, coming home. All four were kidnapped from a music festival during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel led by Hamas.

But, even amid the joy, there was fear over the fate of roughly 120 others still being held in Gaza.

“In this terrible situation, it gives hope,” said Sergio Chmiel, 62, whose nephews Yair, 45, and Eitan Horn, 37, are among the hostages still in Gaza. “Maybe next time it will touch us.”

Mr. Chmiel lamented that an officer died in the rescue operation, something he said could have been avoided with a negotiated deal. “While four families are joyous, one is sad,” Mr. Chmiel said.

Some at the rally were also saddened by the reports by Gaza’s health authorities and Palestinian media that scores of Palestinians had been killed during Israel’s operation to retrieve the hostages.

“Some people will justify it,” said Maya Reuveni, 19, “but at the end of the day, death is death. Every lost life hurts me.”

As the war continued with no end in sight, many at the demonstration expressed disbelief and frustration with how long it was taking to recover the remaining hostages. Maytal Moryosef, 28, from Tel Aviv, said that she would like the Israeli government to take responsibility and work to reach a deal.

“Each time it’s two here, four there,” Ms. Moryosef said, referring to Israel’s military operations that have managed to sporadically bring back some of the hostages from Gaza. “It’s not enough. With 120 left, if two return every two months, we’ll be in this saga for three years. It just can’t continue like this.”

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Adam Sella reporting from Tel Aviv, Israel

For many Israelis, the rescue was a reason to celebrate after a grim stretch.

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The Israeli military’s rescue on Saturday of four hostages instantly lifted the mood in a country long gripped by angst and dread over the plight of the remaining captives in Gaza.

Many Israelis said it was the first good news they had heard in months. And it unfolded with dizzying speed as the hostages were whisked out of Nuseirat, a densely packed area of the central Gaza Strip, and flown by helicopter to a hospital near Tel Aviv.

They had traveled a relatively short distance of about 50 miles but crossed a chasm of boundless suffering.

The first reports of the rescue emerged around lunchtime on Saturday, in the midst of the general quiet of the Jewish Sabbath. The rescue itself had taken place just over two hours earlier, at about 11 a.m. local time, according to the military’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

Images and video footage of the freed hostages quickly emerged and flashed across the main television channels, which all switched to live coverage, replacing the prerecorded programming and reruns typical of the Sabbath.

Jubilant crowds gathered spontaneously, cheering, singing and waving Israeli flags outside the homes of the four and at the entrance of the Sheba Medical Center, where they were beginning their recovery in a closed wing that was hastily prepared to receive them. Dr. Itai Pessach, the head of Sheba’s returning hostages medical team, said the hospital had been told only on Saturday morning to prepare to receive four released captives.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to the special wing to greet the former hostages and their relatives. His office quickly released images and video footage from the scene.

“We will bring them all back,” Mr. Netanyahu vowed in a televised statement before he left the hospital.

The emotional outpouring came after a particularly grim few weeks in Israel, with the war in Gaza grinding into its eighth month, no resolution in sight and an escalation of hostilities across the northern border with Lebanon. Of the 120 hostages who remained in Gaza as of this past week, after being captured during the Hamas-led terrorist attack of Oct. 7, more than 30 had already been declared dead by the Israeli authorities.

Just days ago, Israelis were informed that four hostages abducted on Oct. 7 had perished a few months ago in captivity in circ*mstances that were not immediately clear. All four had appeared alive in hostage videos issued by their captors — one video with three hostages was issued in December, another last month of the fourth, although it was unclear when they were filmed. Their remains are still in Gaza.

In May, the Israeli military retrieved the remains of seven other hostages during operations in the Palestinian coastal enclave.

The Israeli news media paid little attention on Saturday to the heavy death toll reported by officials in Gaza as a result of the rescue operation. One Israeli commando who took part in the raid was gravely injured in armed clashes and died of his wounds.

Pressure has been building on the Israeli government to reach a deal with Hamas for the release of all the remaining hostages. But the latest Israeli proposal for a truce and a hostage and prisoner swap, as outlined by President Biden more than a week ago, is still shrouded in uncertainty, with the sides yet to reach understandings via mediators that would allow for a resumption of negotiations.

Many of the relatives of the returned hostages, as well as relatives of those still in Gaza, exhorted the Israeli government, in televised statements, to act to bring them all home by any means possible.

“Look at the joy and happiness today,” said Einav Zangauker, whose son, Matan Zangauker, is still being held captive in Gaza. “Imagine what will happen when they all return,” she added, urging the government to go for a deal.

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad and Jonathan Rosen contributed reporting.

Isabel Kershner reporting from Jerusalem

The U.N. is adding Israel, Hamas and Islamic Jihad to its list of countries and groups that harm children in conflict zones.

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The United Nations will add Israel, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to a list of countries and armed groups that harm children when it releases its annual report on children and armed conflict, citing the heavy toll the war in Gaza has taken on minors, including killing, maiming and starvation, U.N. officials said.

Stéphane Dujarric, the U.N. spokesman, said the body’s chief of staff called the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, on Friday to inform him that Israel would be listed this year. “The call was a courtesy afforded to countries that are newly listed,” Mr. Dujarric said, “to give countries a heads-up and avoid leaks.”

Hamas, the armed group that led Gaza before the war, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second-largest armed group in the enclave, will be named in the report. Hamas is being cited because its fighters abducted and killed Israeli children when they attacked Israel on Oct. 7, a U.N. official said. Armed groups that harm children in conflicts, like the Taliban and Boko Haram, are routinely named in the annual report.

The news of Israel’s listing further strained an already deteriorating relationship between it and the United Nations.

Mr. Erdan called the move “an immoral decision that aids terrorism and rewards terrorists.” He made a video recording of the phone call and released parts of it on the social media site X.

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Mr. Dujarric, the U.N. spokesman, called the release of a recording of the telephone call “shocking and unacceptable and something I’ve never seen in my 25 years serving this organization.”

The United Nations’ special representative for children and armed conflict prepares the yearly report under a mandate from the General Assembly and the Security Council. The report will be presented to members of the Council next Friday and released publicly on June 18, Mr. Dujarric said. The Council will have an open debate about the report’s findings later this month.

During Hamas’s terrorist attack on Oct. 7, armed men kidnapped children, some of them toddlers and babies, and held them hostage in Gaza. Children were also among the roughly 1,200 Israelis and foreigners killed.

Israel’s retaliatory bombing campaign and ground war in Gaza has killed at least 36,000 people, Gazan health officials say, a large portion of them women and children. The United Nations has said that children in Gaza also face famine and starvation because Israel has restricted humanitarian aid. Many children have also lost limbs or been gravely wounded in other ways.

Majed Bamya, the Palestinian deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said in a post on X, “Israeli ministers are the only ones surprised of such a development (list will be released next week) after the killing and maiming of so many Palestinian children.”

Farnaz Fassihi and Aaron Boxerman

Israel Rescues 4 Hostages in Military Operation; Gazan Officials Say Scores Are Killed (2024)
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