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Israel says it has rescued 4 hostages from Central Gaza

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Four Israeli hostages have been rescued from central Gaza that had been held since being kidnapped by Hamas-led militants on October 7 last year. This is the largest rescue of hostages alive since the war began. Details from the scene are still emerging. Officials at a Gaza hospital tell NPR's producer in Gaza that at least 94 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli rescue operation, which Israel says happened in the heart of a civilian neighborhood. Let's bring in NPR's Kat Lonsdorf in Tel Aviv. Kat, thanks for being with us.

KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: Hey, Scott. Thank you.

SIMON: Who has been rescued and how?

LONSDORF: So the four hostages who were rescued were three men and one woman. They all range in age between 21 and 40. And they were all kidnapped from the Nova music festival on October 7. Israel's military police and domestic security agency - they all participated in this rescue - they called it a, quote, "complex special daytime operation." It was a Nuseirat in central Gaza.

Israel's military spokesman said that they were, quote, "rescued under fire" and were held in homes in the heart of a civilian neighborhood. And I should also just mention here that Nuseirat has been in the news lately. It's where lots of heavy fighting and Israeli bombardment has been happening in the past few days. And it's also where dozens of people were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit a U.N. school sheltering thousands of displaced people just a few days ago. The Israeli military says that this specific rescue operation had been in the planning - in the works for weeks.

SIMON: What's known about how the hostages are doing?

LONSDORF: So they haven't spoken publicly, but Israel says that they are all in good medical condition and are under observation in an Israeli hospital right now. The organization representing hostage families and their supporters issued a statement just now calling the operation, quote, "heroic" and a "miraculous triumph." But they also called for the Israeli government to remain committed to bringing back all of the hostages still in captivity, both alive and dead.

SIMON: And how is the news being received in Israel, as far as you can tell so far?

LONSDORF: Yeah. Well, I can tell you, Scott, that I heard cheers that erupted around Tel Aviv when the news was announced today. It was so loud that I could hear them from where I was sitting in my apartment with the windows closed. So this is huge news here. You know, like you said, it's the largest recovery of hostages alive since the war began. And it's a big boost to morale, especially after just last week, when the Israeli military pronounced four other hostages dead.

You know, there's been growing pressure here from the Israeli public to get the hostages home. There's been weekly protests across the country and a real pressure from the Hostages Family Forum (ph) - that group I just mentioned - meeting with members of the government. You know, a lot of Israelis feel that the main focus should be pausing the war and focusing on a hostage release deal. That's a main part of the three-part plan that Biden put forth last week, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to agree to.

SIMON: And we have to ask, does this strengthen the prime minister politically?

LONSDORF: You know, I think we have yet to see how this all plays out. You know, this news was only - has only been public here for a few short hours. But, you know, it is already having an effect politically. Benny Gantz, who is a member of Netanyahu's three-person war cabinet, who is also Netanyahu's biggest rival - he had scheduled a press conference for later tonight, and many expected he would announce his resignation from the government. It was a kind of protest that Netanyahu isn't doing enough to get the hostages back and end the war. But after this news was announced, Gantz postponed that press conference.

And so it'll be interesting to see if this rescue of hostages takes some pressure off Netanyahu, for now, from the public and within the government too. You know, it's a big win. And we'll see if people will be largely celebrating tonight or if those protests will continue to demand a return of all the hostages.

SIMON: NPR's Kat Lonsdorf in Tel Aviv, thanks so much.

LONSDORF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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