Inside Israel’s hostage rescue: Secret plans and a lethal ‘wall of fire’ | EUROtoday

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JERUSALEM — It was a busy weekend morning out there on the Nuseirat refugee camp, Osama Abu Asi recalled. Fighting could possibly be heard within the distance, nevertheless it didn’t maintain away the patrons, who perused the few luggage of flour and sugar he had unfold on his blanket.

Abu Asi stated he didn’t know that close by, in an condominium one ground above the road, sat a younger dark-haired girl identified world wide — final seen in a viral video clip being pushed into Gaza on the again of bike on Oct. 7, screaming, “Don’t kill me!”

She was Noah Argamani, considered one of 250 Israeli hostages taken captive by Hamas.

Her 245th day in captivity had began like most others till, shortly after 11 a.m., she heard a knock on the door, adopted by yelling. Suddenly, the room was stuffed with Israeli troopers. “You are being rescued!” they shouted in Hebrew.


Summarized tales to rapidly keep knowledgeable

“They simply came, just like that,” Argamani, 26, would inform her shut good friend Yan Gorjaldsan hours later.

The rescue operation on Saturday that freed 4 Israeli hostages and killed greater than 270 Palestinians, in keeping with Gaza well being officers, was one of the vital dramatic and lethal episodes of Israel’s battle towards Hamas. This account is predicated on greater than a dozen interviews with former and present Israeli navy officers, relations of hostages and Palestinian eyewitnesses, in addition to evaluation of verified video footage.

Argamani and three different Israeli hostages can be extracted from central Gaza and reunited with household in a fancy daylight operation involving 1000’s of troops, technicians and analysts.

It was deliberate for weeks and executed easily, Israeli officers stated, till the tight commando raid was a firefight with militants. The Israeli navy responded with a large aerial assault on the crowded streets of Nuseirat.

The bombs stored falling and the streets echoed with screams, Abu Asi stated.

It was like “doomsday.”

The operation was months within the making.

Since Oct. 7, Israeli intelligence models, with assist from their U.S. counterparts, have studied digital clues, drone footage and intercepts to find the hostages. Recently, they locked in on Nuseirat as the present location for 4 captives who had been taken from a desert dance rave simply outdoors the border fence with Gaza.

Among them was Argamani, whose wrenching pleas for mercy have been among the many defining photographs from the Hamas-led assaults on southern Israel. Israel Defense Forces officers stated they knew she had been moved round Gaza greater than as soon as throughout her in time in captivity. Analysts confirmed she was now being held alone in a first-floor condominium; three different hostages — Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41 — have been on the third ground of a constructing close by.

Planning started in tight secrecy. Mock-ups of the 2 buildings have been constructed for troops to rehearse in, officers stated. It mirrored the preparations undertaken by Israeli commandos earlier than their famed rescue of greater than 100 hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.

For weeks, members of Yamam, a particular counterterrorism unit; Shin Bet, the nation’s inside safety company; and the IDF drilled time and again for a uncommon daylight mission.

“We understood that in those apartments with those guards, daytime will be the ultimate surprise,” stated Adm. Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesman.

It would imply larger threat moving into and out of the buildings. And it could imply extra Palestinian civilians on the streets.

Some troopers who took half within the drills didn’t know their actual function, officers stated.

“Keeping it a secret was one of the most difficult things,” a commander within the Givati Brigade recognized as Lt. Col. Ziv stated in an account of the operation printed by the IDF.

Commanders waited for the suitable second, deploying navy earthmovers to arrange the bottom within Gaza.

“We worked on the roads around Nuseirat and in the nearby city of Deir al-Balah, so that vehicles could pass easily at the moment of truth,” stated Maj. Eliav, commander of the Kfir Brigade, whom the IDF recognized solely by his final identify and place in accordance with its guidelines.

Finally, by Thursday, the navy was prepared to maneuver. An evening assembly of the Security Cabinet was canceled to forestall leaks, in keeping with an Israeli official who spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate delicate particulars.

Netanyahu met with a small group of senior safety leaders that night time to greenlight the plan.

‘We have the diamond’

On Saturday morning, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi; Ronen Bar, the pinnacle of Shin Bet; and Hagari crowded right into a command room lined with video screens.

At 11 a.m., Halevi stated “Go.”

Thousands of personnel have been concerned within the operation, IDF officers stated. It took about 25 minutes for particular forces to drive from Israel to Nuseirat. How they acquired there’s nonetheless unclear.

Palestinian witnesses described some troops arriving in two undercover automobiles, considered one of which resembled the vans utilized by Israel to deliver business items into Gaza. The different was a white Mercedes truck, piled excessive with furnishings and different belongings, a typical sight in a camp that’s house to 1000’s of displaced households.

“The IDF made no use of any civilian trucks,” the navy stated in a press release.

Two movies verified by The Washington Post present a field truck marked with a model of dishwashing cleaning soap touring within the firm of Israeli armored automobiles on a street a couple of mile west of the raid. The automobiles head west, away from Nuseirat, and it’s unclear whether or not the movies have been filmed earlier than or after the raid.

The white Mercedes is seen in a 3rd verified video filmed from the balcony of a residential constructing within the heart of the camp. Two ladders may be seen resting towards the facet of a home, resulting in an higher ground subsequent to the truck. “Here they have arrived,” says the voice of the girl who furtively filmed the six-second scene.

Hussam Al-Arouqi, 33, was getting back from the bakery together with his brother Issam, he recounted, when two males in plain garments and about 10 closely armed troopers poured out of the again of the Mercedes. The troopers opened hearth, hitting his brother thrice, he stated.

“He fell to the ground and started bleeding” and tried to crawl away, Hussam stated, including that Apache helicopters have been flying low overhead.

It was greater than an hour, he stated, earlier than it was protected sufficient to achieve Issam and take him to the hospital in a donkey-drawn cart. Issam stays in crucial situation.

Israeli troops succeeded in reaching Argamani’s condominium with out tipping off her guards, in keeping with Hagari, who was watching video feeds from drones circling above and troopers’ helmet cameras. Almost concurrently, different models entered the constructing holding the three male hostages, about 220 yards away.

“In Noah Argamani's building, we surprised them completely,” Hagari stated.

The surprised younger girl was bustled down the steps right into a car and pushed to a helicopter ready close by.

Soldiers relayed the excellent news with a coded phrase: “We have the diamond in our hand.”

The chopper lifted off, heading for a hospital close to Tel Aviv. At 12:20 p.m., Argamani’s household was informed she was free.

By then, the operation in Nuseirat had gone off beam. The guards with the three male hostages had not been taken abruptly. A Yamam commander was shot as they entered the constructing. A firefight erupted, exposing the covert mission.

“Immediately it became a war zone,” stated Amir Avivi, a reservist brigadier common and former deputy commander of the IDF’s Gaza division who was briefed on the operation.

The troopers have been in a position to get the three hostages and the injured man right into a car, nevertheless it broke down below Hamas hearth from rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, officers stated. At one level, Avivi stated, they have been pressured to desert the car and search refuge in a constructing close by.

The commanders referred to as for air assist.

“The air force started shooting to give them a corridor, a wall of fire,” stated retired Maj. Gen. David Tsur, a former Yamam commander.

Explosions rocked the slim streets, which have solely grown extra crowded in latest weeks with households displaced by Israel’s offensive in southern Gaza.

There was carnage in every single place, Abu Asi stated, together with useless girls and kids. The roads have been stuffed with “tanks, artillery, body parts and injured … nothing but a hall of blood.”

He commandeered the tuk-tuk he used for shifting his merchandise and ferried some two dozen useless and injured folks to al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, the place he stated our bodies coated the ground.

“They were shooting and targeting everything,” paramedic Abdel Hamid Ghorab stated from close by al-Awda Hospital, which battle to deal with the frenzy of wounded. “None of us could even tell what happened outside.”

The Gaza Health Ministry stated a minimum of 274 folks have been killed; it was unclear what number of have been combatants.

On social media, folks frantically shared information of airstrikes and troop actions, posting names and photographs of family members they have been separated from. Later got here tributes to the useless.

“Aircraft struck dozens of military targets for the success of the operation,” the IDF stated in a press release. “Hamas, in a very cruel and cynical way, is holding hostages inside civilian buildings.”

The Israeli forces with the three hostages battled away from the market and ultimately reached the seaside. Not removed from the non permanent pier constructed by the U.S. Navy to ship humanitarian help, a second helicopter was ready.

The rescued captives scrambled inside and the wounded officer was loaded. He would later die of his accidents.

The chopper hurried the three hostages to freedom because the battle raged behind them.

Rubin reported from Tel Aviv, Morris from Berlin, Farouk Mahfouz from Cairo and Harb from London. Hazem Balousha in Cairo, Miriam Berger in Jerusalem and Evan Hill in New York contributed to this report.