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

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

Arnon Zamora’s unit played a crucial role in the successful release 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 kidnapped on October 7 at the Nova Music Festival.

“Behind every rescue mission there are Israeli men and women who risk their lives. We are devastated to announce that Chief Inspector Arnon Zamora, commander and tactical operator of the Yamam (National Police Anti-Terrorism Unit), who was seriously injured this morning during the operation to free the hostages, has succumbed to his injuries,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement on X on Saturday, without giving further details.

Mr 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.

According to officials, Mr Zamora fought in the Battle of Yad Mordechai on October 7, stopping the advance of dozens of Hamas terrorists attempting to enter the country.

On Saturday, further honors arrived for Mr. Zamora.

“I salute 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 survived and fell as 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 his sacrifice to save her brother.

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

“It means the world to me”

On Saturday, Israelis celebrated the release of four Gaza hostages in a military operation, cheering on the beaches and gathering outside the hospital where the former prisoners were undergoing medical examinations.

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

Hilla Israeli, a teacher, 39, said she was relaxing at the Sea of ​​Galilee in northern Israel when she heard the news.

“Immediately everyone started pulling out their phones, people came out of the water, cries of joy came from all directions,” she said.

“I cried so much from excitement – ​​I couldn’t hold back the tears.”

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

“We have been thinking about these hostages every day for almost a year – the fact that we managed to save even a few of them despite all the adversities means a lot to us.”

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

Dozens were released during a week-long ceasefire in November, and only three more prisoners were freed in Israeli military raids before Saturday.

Currently, 116 hostages are still being held in the Palestinian territory, 41 of whom are dead, according to the army.

“Just a deal”

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

Yair Moses, son of hostage Gadi Moses, told AFP that the rescue operation had given him “a little hope because when we saw them, we saw that they were healthy. So we were a little encouraged that they were actually getting some food there.”

Omri Shtivi, the brother of hostage Idan Shtivi, who celebrated his 29th birthday in captivity on Saturday, said: “One should not forget 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 being treated, a group of people raised Israeli flags to celebrate their release.

Pictures released by his office show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting the four in the hospital.

Earlier, Mr Netanyahu’s office released a video of him speaking to Ms Argamani on a mobile phone after her release.

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

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

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

“Outburst of joy”

Images of Ms Argamani sitting on a motorcycle shouting “Don’t kill me!” while being held by Hamas militias after the October 7 attack made headlines around the world.

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

Ms Argamani’s mother Liora had said in a widely shared video that she was afraid she would never see her daughter again.

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

“We want all the other hostages to come back 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 the past eight months, we have only been receiving stab wounds in the heart,” says 72-year-old patient Shlomo Akad.

“There is no denying that she was a symbol of terror and fear for those who were there, for those who experienced it. And now suddenly, for the first time, there is an outpouring of joy after she has been rescued.”

The October 7 attack killed 1,194 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures.

According to the Health Ministry of the Hamas-controlled area, 36,801 people were killed in Israel’s retaliatory bombings and ground offensive against Gaza, again mostly civilians.

— with AFP

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

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