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Gazans Recall Israeli Hostage Rescue Raid


37,084 people killed in Gaza, according to Gaza health ministry. (File)

Palestinian Territories:

A day after Israeli special forces rescued four hostages from Gaza, Palestinians recounted their panic during the intense gun battles and explosions that rocked the area and reduced buildings to rubble.

While Israelis have rejoiced at the safe return of the four captives, officials in Hamas-run Gaza decried a “massacre” in which they said 274 people were killed and 698 wounded in the crowded Nuseirat refugee camp.

Soon after the raid started around 11 am (0800 GMT) in Nuseirat’s busy market area, bombs were raining down and turning the neighbourhood into “smoke and flames”, said Muhannad Thabet, a 35-year-old resident.

“People were screaming — young and old, women and men,” he said by phone. “Everyone wanted to flee the place, but the bombing was intense and anyone who moved was at risk of being killed due to the heavy bombardment and gunfire.

“Houses were destroyed with their occupants inside. There were also large numbers of displaced people and shops, stalls and cars were on fire due to the bombing.”

Israel had sent in a special forces team of troops, police and Shin Bet operatives who simultaneously raided two buildings to extract the hostages — Noa Argamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41.

They met little resistance in one, but heavy gunfire in the other and withdrew under attack with guns and rocket-propelled grenades to take the hostages to nearby helicopters, said military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.

Another military spokesman, Peter Lerner, told US network ABC that “the forces came under fire from a 360-degree threat — RPGs, AK-47s, explosive devices, mortar rounds. It was … a war zone.”

‘No one could move’

Eyewitnesses said the Israeli raid and retreat were covered by heavy air strikes as well as drone and tank fire.

Several told AFP they had seen bodies in the streets, which AFP could not independently verify.

As the fighting raged, the injured were taken to one of Gaza’s hospitals, medics said.

“The hospital was filled with martyrs and injured, and it was impossible to accommodate such a large number within minutes,” said doctor Marwan Abu Nasser, an official at the Al-Awda health facility near the camp.

“Of course, the hospital was under fire, and no one could move during the operation.”

Watching from his roof, another local man, Mohammed Moussa, said he was terrified when he caught a glimpse of an Israeli tank on the street below with artillery fire crashing down.

“I should be dead,” marvelled the 29-year-old after the battle was over, leaving much of the area covered in debris and heavy dust that coated the streets in grey.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The operatives also took about 251 hostages, of whom 116 hostages now remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 of them are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory military offensive has killed at least 37,084 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.

Troops ‘disguised as Hamas’

Several witnesses reported seeing Israeli forces burst out of a refrigerated truck, dressed in the garb of Palestinian operatives in an apparent bid to confuse their enemies, although this also could not be independently verified.

Alaa al-Khatib, a displaced woman living in the camp, told AFP she was walking to a market when she saw people climbing out of a refrigerated truck and exiting a small white car.

They then took out a ladder and began climbing into an upper floor of a nearby building, she said.

“Moments later, I heard gunfire and explosions from the houses, neighbourhoods and streets of the camp,” she said.

“I learnt that Israeli special forces had infiltrated the camp with Palestinian aid vehicles, all as a distraction to divert the attention of the people in the camp from the operation they came for, to liberate Israeli hostages.”

Several other witnesses reported similar details to AFP, notably the presence of a refrigerated truck.

“They were wearing clothes like Hamas and Islamic Jihad people, and some were masked,” said another local man, Mahmoud al-Assar, 27.

Recalling the intensity of the battle that soon erupted and devastated several city blocks, Assar said that “what happened in the camp was like an earthquake”.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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