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

By AFP - Jun 10,2024 - Last updated at Jun 10,2024

Palestinians inspect the damage and debris a day after an operation by the Israeli Special Forces in the Nuseirat camp, in the central Gaza Strip on Sunday (AFP photo)

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

Special forces fought heavy gun battles with Palestinian fighters 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.

The 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.

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.

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