Hostages in good condition; Hamas reports many casualties

IDF rescues 4 hostages from 8 months’ captivity in daytime operation in central Gaza

Special forces raid two Hamas buildings in Nuseirat, extricating Noa Argamani, Almog Meir Jan, Andrey Kozlov, Shlomi Ziv; officer Arnon Zmora, one of the rescue leaders, is killed

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Scenes from the hostages' release (IDF/Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Four Israeli hostages were rescued alive from Hamas captivity Saturday in a daring daylight operation in the central Gaza Strip, the military announced.

Noa Argamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 21, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 40, had been abducted from the Supernova music festival near the community of Re’im on the morning of October 7, when some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists killed 1,200 people and took 251 hostages in a murderous rampage in southern Israel.

Officers of police’s elite Yamam counter-terrorism unit, along with Shin Bet agents, simultaneously raided two Hamas-controlled multi-story buildings in the heart of central Gaza’s Nuseirat, a joint statement said. Argamani was rescued at one site, while Meir Jan, Kozlov, and Ziv were at the second location.

Hundreds more soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces participated in the operation, according to the military.

Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the hostages were rescued by special forces while “under fire.”

Yamam Chief Inspector Arnon Zmora, who commanded the rescue team at the building where three hostages were being held, was critically wounded by Hamas fire. He was brought to an Israeli hospital, but died shortly after. The Hamas guards were killed in the exchange.

Known originally as “Seeds of Summer,” the name of the rescue operation was changed after the event to “Operation Arnon” in his memory.

Chief Inspector Arnon Zmora, who was killed in a mission to rescue hostages held in the Gaza Strip, June 8, 2024. (Israel Police)

Amid the operation, heavy airstrikes were carried out in the area against Hamas sites and in support of the ground troops, the military said. Hamas health authorities reported at least 50 Palestinians were killed, without noting how many were combatants.

The rescued hostages, who had been in Hamas captivity for eight months, were all in good condition, according to initial medical assessments. They were taken by helicopters from the Strip to hospitals in Israel for further evaluation.

“During the operation, we struck… threats to our forces in the area. These threats were struck from the land, air, and sea… for us to extract our forces [and the hostages],” Hagari said in a press conference.

Smoke rises after an Israeli air strike, in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip, on June 8, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Nuseirat is one of the few areas of Gaza where ground troops had not yet maneuvered into during the IDF’s ground offensive against the Hamas terror group.

Hagari said that the rescue had been in the works for “many weeks,” with “quality intelligence and complex operational planning.”

“The intelligence for this operation was very complex to obtain,” he said.

He said the hostages were held in the homes of Hamas-affiliated families, who were paid by Hamas.

It was the third successful operation of its kind since October 7. The first was the rescue of soldier Ori Megidish in late October. In early December, the IDF attempted to rescue another hostage, but he was killed. And in February, hostages Fernando Marman, 61, and Louis Har, 70, were rescued from southern Gaza’s Rafah.

All of the hostages rescued by the IDF from Gaza, including the four on Saturday, were saved from buildings and not tunnels.

Rescued hostage Noa Argamani is seen reunited with her father, June 8, 2024 (Courtesy)

Argamani, was seen in a famous video screaming in fear as she was abducted to Gaza from the Supernova party on a motorbike. Her mother, who is terminally ill, had repeatedly begged to see her before she died. Argamani was also featured in a Hamas propaganda video published in January. Another clip featuring her voice was aired last week.

Footage posted to social media on Saturday showed Argamani reuniting with her father while en route to a hospital, where she was reunited with other family members.

Meir Jan, 21, was released from army service three months before his capture. He too was taken from the party.

Kozlov, 27, was working as a security guard at the rave when he was captured. He is a new immigrant to Israel, having moved here about a year and a half ago.

Ziv, 40, was also working as part of the security detail at the desert party. Ziv had gone to the party with two others, Aviv Eliyahu, his wife’s relative, and Jake Marlowe, a friend. Both were killed.

The Israel Defense Forces later Saturday released footage of all four hostages reuniting with members of their families at Ramat Gan’s Sheba Medical Center.

The rescue operation was hailed by Israeli leaders, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saluting security forces for carrying out the daring mission.

“Once again you have proven that Israel does not surrender to terrorism and acts with creativity and boldness that knows no bounds, to bring home our hostages,” the premier said in a statement. “We are committed to doing so in the future as well. We will not let up until we complete the mission and return all our hostages home – both the living and the dead.”

Almog Meir Jan reunites with his parents at Sheba Medical Center after being rescued from Hamas captivity alongside Noa Argamani, Shlomi Ziv, and Andrey Kozlov, June 8, 2024. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Netanyahu later visited all four hostages at the hospital.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant feted the mission as “one of the most heroic and extraordinary operations I have witnessed over the course of 47 years serving in Israel’s defense establishment.”

Rescued hostage Andrey Kozlov, freed by the IDF from Hamas captivity in Gaza, is escorted from an IDF helicopter on arrival at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“IDF, Shin Bet, and Yamam, as well as the forces who supported [those in the field] have conducted an unprecedented operation – daring in nature, planned brilliantly, and executed in an extraordinary fashion. The various security agencies cooperated closely — the IDF, Shin Bet, and Yamam — acting as one single unit,” he said in a statement, thanking all those involved.

Rescued hostage Shlomi Ziv at Sheba Medical Center, June 8, 2024 (IDF)

“I would especially like to express my appreciation to the IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, who is leading the the military. I would like to express my appreciation to the head of the Shin Bet and to the commander of Yamam for their leadership in these complex conditions,” Gallant continued, adding that the country has people they can count on and reasons to be proud.

He praised the military chief for acting for the benefit of the country, even though some politicians have criticized him over the handling of the war.

“This morning not only did we have a successful operation, but also an opportunity to fulfill the goals of this war,” Gallant stated.

Praising the soldiers who carried out “the complicated and brave operation,” war cabinet member Benny Gantz said his “heart is full”

“Even today, my heart goes out to all the families of the hostages. We are committed to doing everything to return them homes,” he said.

An Israeli military helicopter with released Israeli hostages arrives at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Following Saturday’s rescue, 116 of the 251 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 still remain in Gaza, not all of them alive. A weeklong truce in late November saw 105 civilians released from Hamas captivity and four hostages were released before that.

In all, seven hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 19 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

Rescued hostage Almog Meir Jan raises his hands in celebration as he is escorted from an IDF helicopter on arrival at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 41 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and her fate is still unknown, although her family believes she is dead.

Shlomi Ziv embraces a soldier as he lands in Israel after being rescued from Hamas captivity, June 8, 2024. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Hamas has also been holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 36,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far. Of these, some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals or through self-reporting by families, with the rest of the figure based on Hamas sources. The tolls, which cannot be verified, include some 15,000 gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

The IDF has said 295 soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

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