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Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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4 Hostages Released From Hamas Captivity in Daring Military Operation

Friends, family, and strangers flocked to Sheba Medical Center to welcome home the four released hostages | Amid celebrations, supporters call for the release of the 120 hostages remaining in Gaza

חבריו של אלמוג מאיר מחוץ למרכז הרפואי שיבא, אליו הובא לאחר שחרורו משבי חמאס (צילום: יהל פרג')
Friends of freed hostage Almog Meir Jan gather at Sheba Medical Center. (Photo: Yahel Farag)
By Yahel Farag and Maya Ronen

Four hostages were rescued from Hamas captivity in a daring military operation on Saturday after 246 days in Gaza. According to the Israeli military, the four former hostages—Noa Argamani, Shlomi Ziv, Almog Meir Jan, and Andrey Kolzov—are all physically well.

At Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, the makeshift site of protest for the return of hostages held in Hamas captivity, celebrations broke out upon the receipt of the news. The families of the freed hostages announced in a joint statement that they would continue to fight for the release of all the hostages.

“The Israel Defense Force’s heroic operation that released and brought home Noa Argamani, Shlomi Ziv, Andrey Kolzov, and Almog Meir Jan was a spiritual victory and the victory of the state of Israel,” the Hostage and Missing Families Forum said in a statement. “Even now, and especially with the joy in which the state of Israel is sharing, the government of Israel must remember its obligation to return all 120 hostages who are still held by Hamas.”

US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron celebrate the news of the hostages’ release at a joint press conference at the Élysée Palace in Paris. “We won’t stop working until all the hostages come home and a cease-fire is reached. That is essential to happen,” Biden said.

Dozens of Israelis gathered outside Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on Saturday to celebrate the return of the four hostages, each of whom was abducted from the Nova Rave near Kibbutz Re’im.

Friends of Almog Meir Jan, 21, waited for him in the lobby. A psychologist who performed intake on Meir Jan after his arrival at the hospital addressed the crowd: “Almog is in good condition. I believe most of you won’t see him today, but in a day or two you’ll all be able to speak with him.”

Almog Meir Jan’s friends and family at Sheba Medical Center. (Photo: Yahel Farag)
Almog Meir Jan’s friends and family at Sheba Medical Center. (Photo: Yahel Farag)

Another group of Meir Jan’s friends stood outside the hospital waving Israeli flags. “There’s no joy like this,” one of them said. When they heard the news that Officer Arnon Zmora died in the rescue operation, another said, “A joy that is mixed up with sadness.”

Meir Jan is a resident of Or Yehuda in central Israel. Recently released from the army, he was meant to start a job in high-tech on Oct. 8. After Hamas terrorists invaded the Nova rave on Oct. 7, Meir Jan called his mother to tell her he was hiding. Hours later, the family saw video evidence of Meir Jan being abducted into Gaza.

Almog Meir Jan. (Photo: social media)
Almog Meir Jan. (Photo: social media)

One of the supporters at the hospital was Rozita Pnini, head of the MirYam Institute, a New York-based Israel advocacy organization. Pnini has been especially devoted to the release of Meir Jan. She said that Meir Jan’s mother, Orit Meir, has suffered since the capture of her son. “But she is a strong woman,” she said. “She saw the positive. She fought endlessly.”

Pnini’s friend Vicki Shoya, who has also supported the Meir family, expressed her joy at the news of Meir Jan’s release. “We were moved. We haven’t stopped crying and we immediately arrived,” Shoya said. “We’re happy that this moment has come.”

Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai also came to the hospital. He visited Meir Jan as well as the family of the late Officer Zmora, who was killed while rescuing Meir Jan and the other three hostages.

Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai visited Almog Meir Jan after his release from Hamas captivity. (Photo: Yahel Farag)
Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai visited Almog Meir Jan after his release from Hamas captivity. (Photo: Yahel Farag)

Yosef, a resident of Ramat Gan with no personal connection to the hostages, travelled 40 minutes to the hospital on foot in order to celebrate. “I heard the cries of joy and I saw the rumors that hostages were freed. I started crying from joy and I said, I’m going there.”

Yosef, a resident of Ramat Gan who came to the hospital to celebrate the hostages’ release. (Photo: Yahel Farag)
Yosef, a resident of Ramat Gan who came to the hospital to celebrate the hostages’ release. (Photo: Yahel Farag)

Evan Liper and Louis Leibowitz, originally from New York, also came to the hospital by foot when they heard the news. The two are staying in Israel for a year as part of a Masa program and were spending the weekend in Ramat Efal, about twenty minutes away from the hospital by foot. “At home, everyone’s excited,” Leibowitz said. “My mom sent me a text, ‘Today we witnessed a miracle.’”

Evan Liper and Louis Leibowitz from New York, said that their families back home were thrilled to hear about the release of the hostages. (Photo: Yahel Farag)
Evan Liper and Louis Leibowitz from New York, said that their families back home were thrilled to hear about the release of the hostages. (Photo: Yahel Farag)

Sofi Ben Shalom came to the hospital to support Andrey Kolzov, 27, although she doesn’t know him or his family personally. “I left everything and came here to embrace him,” she said. “My daughter was also at the Nova [rave massacre]. I cried endlessly today. She was saved and he’s in a condition like this. I brought money to support him.”

Sofi Ben Shalom, who came to the hospital to support Andrey Kolzov. (Photo: Yahel Farag)
Sofi Ben Shalom, who came to the hospital to support Andrey Kolzov. (Photo: Yahel Farag)

Kolzov moved to Israel last August from Saint Petersburg, Russia. He settled in Rishon LeZion and worked in a restaurant in Tel Aviv. He was at the Nova festival on Oct. 7 as a security guard after a friend offered him the shift.

When terrorists invaded, Kolzov texted his parents that he was okay.

Andrey Kolzov and his mother Yvgenia. (Photo: private album)
Andrey Kolzov and his mother Yvgenia. (Photo: private album)

Kolzov’s parents, who live in Russia, have protested for his return over the past eight months, lobbying both the Russian and Israeli governments.

Many supporters also gathered at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, where freed hostage Noa Argamani, 25, was transferred to see her mother, who is dying of brain cancer.

Argamani studied information systems engineering at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. On Oct. 7, she and her boyfriend Avinatan Or took part in the Nova music festival. After Hamas fighters arrived at the rave, they separated Argamani and Or. A video of Argamani yelling for her boyfriend as she is driven away on a motorcycle by terrorists became one of the most iconic videos of the attacks.

Noa Argamani. (Photo: Hostages and Missing Families Forum)
Noa Argamani. (Photo: Hostages and Missing Families Forum)

Or remains in Hamas captivity.

“We heard the news, and we were so moved,” said Neta Elharar, who came to the hospital with her father after hearing of Argamani’s release. “We’ve been waiting for this for so long. I called my dad and we came to the hospital to welcome her.”

“I’m back from four months of reserve duty in Gaza,” her father, David Elharar said. “We waited for this moment a long time. It’s one piece of the very big puzzle that I’m sure we’ll complete. The army is working extremely hard in order to successfully bring home as many hostages as possible, with as many of them still alive as possible.”

In a conversation with Argamani upon her release, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said, “Hearing your voice brings tears to my eyes. I am embracing you in the name of the entire nation of Israel.”

Shlmo Ziv, 40, was also freed from captivity on Saturday. Ziv lives in the northern moshav of Elkosh with Miran, his wife of 13 years. Last summer, he finished an interior design course and hoped to work in the field. He came to the Nova rave as a security guard together with two friends of his, Aviv Eliyahu and Jake Marlowe, who were murdered.

Shlomo Ziv, left, with his friend Jake Marlowe, who was murdered at the Nova festival. (Photo: private album)
Shlomo Ziv, left, with his friend Jake Marlowe, who was murdered at the Nova festival. (Photo: private album)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated the hostages return. “This is a moving day like no other, a moving day for all the citizens of Israel and for many around the world,” he said. “I want to clarify once again: we will bring everyone home. Even now we are working on more returns, more possibilities.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said of the operation, “Our fighters succeeded to release four hostages from Hamas captivity and to bring them home to Israel. I followed the complex operation from the command room. Forces from the IDF, the Shin Ben, and the National Counterterrorism Unit operated with bravery under heavy fire and completed their mission heroically. The defense system will continue to fight until the 120 hostages are returned and will act to release them at every opportunity.”

Histadrut Chair Arnon Bar-David also celebrated the news. “Noa, Andrey, Almog, and Shlomi—the entire nation of Israel shares in the happiness, the excitement, and the tears of joy upon your return home,” Bar-David said. He also called for the return of the remaining hostages still held in Gaza.

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