Gazans claim IDF special forces posed as civilians, Hamas fighters to near hostages

Locals says Israeli forces entered Nuseirat camp in disguise before rescue op, with some claiming to be displaced Gazans renting an apartment in building where Noa Argamani was held

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

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

Some of the Israeli special forces that entered the Nuseirat camp in Gaza on Saturday to conduct a large-scale operation to free four hostages posed as displaced Gazans or as Hamas fighters, according to eyewitnesses quoted in Arab media outlets.

The Saudi-owned Asharq news channel quoted local residents saying that a special forces unit, including women, entered the camp in disguise, driving in a white car loaded with mattresses. They said the women were dressed in clothes “that women are wearing here in the war.”

According to the report, the special forces introduced themselves to local residents as Palestinians escaping the Israel Defense Forces operation in Rafah, and said they had rented a place in the area around the market in Nuseirat, while pointing at the building where hostage Noa Argamani was being held. The three male hostages who were also rescued in the operation — Andrey Kozlov, Shlomi Ziv and Almog Meir Jan — were being detained in another building 200 meters away.

Israel’s Ynet news site said the unit was composed of mista‘aravim, special forces that operate in Palestinian areas by blending in with local Arabs and speaking the language fluently. The term translates as “those who become like Arabs.”

The unit reportedly entered the Nuseirat camp from an area close to the newly built American maritime aid pier and to the Netzarim corridor, an east-west passage bisecting Gaza north of the camp which has been held by the IDF and is used as a jumping-off point for raids in northern and central Gaza.

The disguised forces reportedly got out of their car and split into two groups, each heading toward one of the two buildings, in preparation for the operation.

Illustrative: Palestinians fleeing the Israeli offensive on Khan Younis arrive at Rafah, Gaza Strip, Feb. 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Eyewitnesses told Asharq that other special forces also snuck into the Nuseirat camp inside an aid truck. The IDF has denied using humanitarian transports for the operation.

In a separate report, a resident of the Nuseirat camp told the Saudi news network Al-Arabiya that he saw men storming into his neighbor’s house wearing Hamas military uniforms, helmets and badges, and thought initially that they were Hamas operatives, but later realized they were members of an IDF special unit.

The man recounted that there was an “insane exchange of fire” and that planes fired at the building of his neighbor, Ahmed Aljamal, “from every direction.”

A tweet on the same incident by Ramy Abdu, head of the Hamas-affiliated Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, claimed that the IDF used a ladder to enter Aljamal’s home.

The same tweet described Ahmed’s son Abdallah Aljamal as a journalist and a spokesman for the Hamas-run labor ministry in Gaza.

The IDF confirmed on Sunday that Abdallah Aljamal was holding hostages Meir Jan, Kozlov and Ziv in his home alongside his family.

Abdallah Aljamal wrote one column for Al Jazeera in 2019, prompting rumors that he was a Gazan correspondent for the Qatari news outlet who had been detaining a hostage in his home — an unsubstantiated claim that the network stridently denied on Sunday.

The four Israeli hostages were rescued alive from Hamas captivity Saturday from two separate buildings in the heart of central Gaza’s Nuseirat.

Argamani, Meir Jan, Kozlov and Ziv 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.

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

IDF 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.

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

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

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 initially reported at least 50 Palestinians were killed. Hamas’s health ministry updated the toll to 274 on Sunday. The figure cannot be independently verified and does not distinguish between civilians and Hamas combatants. Hagari said on Saturday: “We know about under 100 [Palestinian] casualties. I don’t know how many of them are terrorists.”

Israeli hostages pictured after their rescue from Hamas captivity in Gaza on June 8, 2024. From left: Shlomi Ziv (IDF); Andrey Kozlov and Almog Meir Jan (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90), and Noa Argamani (Courtesy)

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.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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