In Israeli Hostage Rescue, Minutes Made the Difference

When the four Israelis woke up in Gaza on Saturday, they had been held hostage by Hamas for 245 days. The buildings in which they were being kept, two low-rise, concrete apartment blocks, looked much like the other nearby residences in a civilian neighborhood full of Palestinian families.

Within a few hours, the captives, three men and one woman, would be reunited with their own families, the result of a risky, long-planned rescue operation in which the full might of the Israeli military would be used to devastating effect.

“I’m so emotional,” one hostage, Noa Argamani, 26, told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in a phone call after her release. “It’s been so long since I heard Hebrew.”

The rescue effort in Nuseirat involved hundreds of intelligence officers and two teams of commandos who simultaneously stormed the homes in which the hostages were being held, the Israeli military said.

In one apartment, where the male hostages were imprisoned, a firefight broke out between the soldiers and the Hamas guards, according to the military and video footage it released of the encounter. Later, and under a hail of gunfire, the truck in which three hostages and a wounded Israeli officer were being evacuated broke down and was surrounded by militants, Israeli officials said.

In an effort to give the rescuers enough time and ample cover to get the captives to freedom, the military said, the air force began striking dozens of nearby targets. Many Palestinians became aware of the fighting only when they heard bombs exploding.

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