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‘It means the world’: Israelis rejoice as four hostages freed

The father (C) of freed hostage Shlomi Ziv arrives at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv
The father (C) of freed hostage Shlomi Ziv arrives at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv - Copyright AFP Bashar TALEB
The father (C) of freed hostage Shlomi Ziv arrives at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv - Copyright AFP Bashar TALEB
Sharon Aronowicz with Mark Anderson in Jerusalem

Israelis celebrated Saturday the release of four hostages from Gaza in a military operation, cheering on beaches and gathering outside the hospital where the former captives underwent medical checks.

The military named the rescued hostages as Noa Argamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41, all of whom were abducted from the Nova music festival on October 7.

Footage widely shared on social media showed beachgoers in Israel’s coastal commercial hub of Tel Aviv erupting into cheers after a lifeguard announced the release of the four hostages over a loudspeaker.

Hilla Israeli, a 39-year-old teacher, said she was relaxing by the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel when she heard the news.

“In an instant everyone started pulling their phones, people came out of the water, shouts of joy came from different directions,” she said.

“I cried so much from excitement — I couldn’t stop the tears.”

Uriya Bekenstein, 42, said it was “a very emotional day”.

“We have had these hostages in our thoughts for every day for the better part of a year now — to have even a few of them rescued against all odds, it means the world.”

The four were among 251 hostages seized during Hamas’s October 7 attack that triggered the war in the Gaza Strip, now in its ninth month.

Dozens were released during a one-week truce in November, and before Saturday only three other captives were freed in Israeli military raids.

There are now 116 hostages still held in the Palestinian territory, including 41 the army says are dead.

– ‘Only a deal’ –

Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv to demand government action to end the war and bring the remaining hostages home.

Yair Moses, son of hostage Gadi Moses, told AFP the rescue operation “gave me some hope because when we saw them, we saw they were healthy, so we were a bit encouraged that they did get some food there”.

Omri Shtivi, brother of hostage Idan Shtivi, who on Saturday turned 29 in captivity, said: “It should be remembered that only a deal will lead to the release of the vast majority of the hostages.”

Outside the Sheba Medical Center in an eastern suburb of Tel Aviv where the four were treated, a group of people raised Israeli flags in celebration of their release.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met the four inside the hospital, images shared by his office showed.

Earlier, Netanyahu’s office released a video of him speaking with Argamani on a mobile telephone after her release.

She told Netanyahu she was “very excited” to return home, adding: “I haven’t spoken Hebrew in such a long time.”

Netanyahu told her: “We didn’t give up on you for one moment.”

Argamani’s father Yaakov, whose birthday it was on Saturday, said: “Such a gift, I never believed I would receive.”

– ‘Burst of joy’ –

Images of Argamani on a motorbike following the October 7 attack, crying “Don’t kill me!” as she was held by Hamas militants made headlines around the world.

After her release on Saturday she went to the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv where her mother has been undergoing treatments for brain cancer.

Argamani’s mother Liora had said in a widely shared video that she feared she would not have the chance to see her daughter again.

Meir Jan’s uncle Aviram Meir in a statement urged the government to reach a hostage release agreement with Hamas.

“We want all the other hostages to come back with the deal,” he said.

An AFP journalist at Ichilov Hospital said patients lined the halls hoping to catch a glimpse of Argamani.

“For eight months now, we have only been receiving stabs in the heart,” said patient Shlomo Akad, 72.

“There’s no denying that she was the symbol of the horror and fear for those who were there, for those who experienced it,” he said.

“And now suddenly, for the first time it’s a burst of joy after she was rescued.”

The October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory bombardments and ground offensive on Gaza have killed 36,801 people, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

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AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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