Israeli commander Arnon Zamora killed in daring raid in Gaza that brought four hostages home

The only Israeli soldier killed in the daring raid to rescue four hostages in Gaza was a commander of the country’s elite counter-terrorism unit, officials said.

Arnon Zamora’s unit played a vital role in the successful return of hostages Noa Argamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andri Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41, who were held captive in the Nuseirat refugee camp.

All four were abducted from the Nova music festival on October 7.

“Behind every rescue mission there are Israeli men and women who risk their lives. We are devastated to share that Chief Inspector Arnon Zamora, Commander and Tactical Operator of Yamam (Counter-Terrorism Unit of the National Police), who was seriously injured during the hostage rescue operation this morning, has succumbed to his injuries,” he said the Israeli Ministry of Defense said in a statement on Saturday on X, without providing further details.

Zamora lived in the village of Sde David, near the Israeli city of Sderot, less than 24 kilometers from the Gaza border.

He leaves behind his wife Michal, two children and his parents Reuven and Ruthi, Haaretz reported.

Zamora fought Oct. 7 in the Battle of Yad Mordechai, halting the advance of dozens of Hamas terrorists trying to enter the country, officials said.

More tributes to Mr. Zamora poured in on Saturday.

“I pay tribute to Chief Inspector Arnon Zamora, commander of the elite Yamam unit, who fell while leading a daring operation to rescue four hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. He lived and fell a hero,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement on X.

Mr Ziv’s sister Revital Nasi tearfully thanked the fallen hero’s family for their sacrifice to save her brother.

“We are so sorry and we just want to say thank you,” he said, according to the Times of Israel.

Israeli hostage Noa Argamani reunited with her father after the Gaza rescue

“It Means the World”

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

Footage widely shared on social media showed beachgoers in Israel’s coastal commercial hub of Tel Aviv erupting in applause 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 taking out their phones, people came out of the water, shouts of joy came from different directions,” he said.

“I cried so much with 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 every day for almost a year now – to have saved even a few against all odds, it means the world.”

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

Dozens of prisoners were released during a week-long truce in November, and before Saturday only three other prisoners had been freed during Israeli military raids.

There are currently 116 hostages still held in Palestinian territory, of which 41 are dead, according to the army.

“Just 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 that the rescue operation “gave me a bit of hope because when we saw them, we saw that they were healthy, so we were a bit encouraged by the fact that they found food there.”

Omri Shtivi, brother of hostage Idan Shtivi, who turned 29 in captivity on Saturday, said: “It should be remembered that only an agreement will lead to the release of the vast majority of 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 to celebrate their release.

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

Previously, Netanyahu’s office released a video of him speaking to Ms. Argamani on a cellphone after his release.

He told Netanyahu he was “very excited” to return home, adding: “I haven’t spoken Hebrew in so long.”

Netanyahu told her: “We have not given up on you even for a moment.”

Ms Argamani’s father, Yaakov, whose birthday was on Saturday, said: “I never thought I would receive such a gift.”

‘Explosion of joy’

Images of Ms. Argamani on a motorcycle after the October 7 attack, shouting “Don’t kill me!” While she was detained by Hamas militants she made headlines around the world.

After her release on Saturday she went to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv where her mother was undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

Ms Argamani’s mother, Liora, had said in a widely shared video that she feared she would never have the chance to see her daughter again.

Meir Jan’s uncle, Aviram Meir, in a statement urged the government to reach an agreement on the release of the hostages with Hamas.

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

An AFP journalist at Ichilov Hospital said patients were queuing in the corridors hoping to catch a glimpse of Ms Argamani.

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

“There’s no denying that she was the symbol of horror and fear for those who were there, for those who experienced it. And now suddenly, for the first time, there is an explosion of joy after being saved.”

The October 7 attack killed 1,194 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli data.

According to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry, Israel’s retaliatory bombing and ground offensive on Gaza has killed 36,801 people, mostly civilians.

– with the AFP

This article originally appeared in the NY Post and was reproduced with permission

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