Israelis rejoice at ‘Hostage Square’ after four saved from Gaza
People sing “Am Yisrael Chai” before an empty Shabbat table at “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv, June 8, 2024. Photo: Amelie Botbol

But sorrow abounds for the scores still in Hamas’s hands.

By Amelie Botbol
June 9, 2024

(JNS) Thousands of Israelis converged on “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, many euphoric over the daring operation to rescue four captives from Gaza even while demanding a deal with Hamas to secure the freedom of the remaining 120 Israelis held by the terrorists.

During a complex daytime operation in the heart of a crowded residential neighborhood, Israeli forces recovered from Hamas captivity Noa Argamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 21, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 40.

“I was so excited that our army brought people back alive that I cried,” Jimmy Miller, a cousin of Shiri Bibas, told JNS at the rally on Saturday.

“I was excited to see Noa Argamani, whose mother is so sick, alive. Last week, I was with Almog Jan Meir’s mother, we spoke together on stage. It was really amazing to see that there are people who came back from there walking, breathing and looking functional,” he added. 

Bibas was kidnapped from her home in Kibbutz Nir Oz during Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre along with her husband and sons, Ariel, 4, and Kfir Bibas, 10 months old at the time. In November, Hamas announced the deaths of Shiri and the kids. In response, the IDF said only that it was “assessing the accuracy of the information.”

Shortly thereafter, Hamas released a propaganda video showing father Yarden, 34, who was also abducted on Oct. 7 and remains in Gaza.

“I would like for all of them to come back together in the same situation. I hope it will happen as soon as possible. We know not everybody is held above ground and some are in the tunnels. So much time in the tunnels, it’s not the same as being in a house,” Miller said. 

“We can see that there are Gazans who keep our hostages inside their houses. We have to get into Rafah and try to find our people,” he added.

Israelis rally at “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv, June 8, 2024. Photo: Yair Palti

Vered Yablonka, the mother of Hanan Yablonka, expressed great relief that the four captives were returned home.

“I am so happy that they came back alive, because my son and others did not,” she told JNS on Saturday night.

Last month, the IDF recovered the bodies of Hanan Yablonka,42, along with those of Orión Hernández Radoux, 30, and Michel Nisenbaum, 59, who were killed on Oct. 7 and then abducted by Hamas terrorists to Gaza.

“It’s exciting to see the IDF get them out in a ‘supermission’. But, there are still 120 families whose loved ones are held in Gaza and I am not sure that the military can bring back everyone like this,” Yablonka said.

“I am not sure that a mission like this can be replicated at any moment. I think a deal would bring back more people,” she added.

Nevertheless, Yablonka continued, “this is the army that we believe in, this is the strong army of the people of Israel. They will continue being strong. We know that one officer fell in the mission, and we stand with his family. The soldiers are like our children.”

Border Police Chief Inspector Arnon Zamora was mortally wounded during Saturday’s rescue mission and pronounced dead at the hospital shortly thereafter. 

Despite the heavy hearts, many people were jubilant Saturday night, joining arms and singing “Am Yisrael Chai” (‘The People of Israel Live”). Others danced by the long empty Shabbat table set up in honor of the remaining captives in the center of Hostage Square. 

Sigal Rotman, 59, from Kibbutz Degania Bet, a friend of captive Carmel Gat’s family, told JNS that the news brought her great joy and the “excitement left her in tears.

Similarly conflicted was Ruby Chen, the father of Itay Chen, 19, whose body has been held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza since he was killed during the Oct. 7 invasion.

“It’s a difficult day with a lot of emotions,” Ruby Chen told JNS at the rally. “On one hand, we are very happy for the four families but there are still 120 others waiting and I think anyone with some common sense understands that all of the hostages will not come out this way.

“The international community needs to stop this. They need to put pressure on Hamas, and all the organizations that still support it across the globe, to come to the negotiation table and work out a deal,” added Chen.

Ruby Chen, the father of Itay Chen,19, whose body has been held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza since he was killed during the Oct. 7 invasion, at “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv, June 8, 2024. Photo: Amelie Botbol.

Hamas reportedly rejected the latest Israeli hostage-ceasefire deal, claiming that it is fundamentally different from the one presented by U.S. President Joe Biden on May 31.

The terror group stated that the proposal “does not promise a permanent ceasefire, the occupation’s forces will remain in Gaza, and when they receive the hostages, they will renew the destruction against our nation.”

Hamas is demanding an end to the war and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Strip, two conditions Jerusalem rejects.

Yehuda Cohen hold a photo of his son Nimrod, a soldier presumed alive after being kidnapped by Hamas terrorists near Kibbutz Nirim on Oct. 7,  at “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv, June 8, 2024. Photo: Amelie Botbol

“I have mixed feelings,” Yehuda Cohen, the father of Nimrod Cohen, a soldier presumed alive after being kidnapped by Hamas terrorists near Kibbutz Nirim on Oct. 7, told JNS at the rally Saturday.

“We are very happy for the four families that got their loved ones back alive, but at the same time we are afraid that this might slow down or even prevent coming to another agreement [with Hamas],” he continued. 

“My son is a soldier who is way down in the tunnels. No military operation will bring him back, even army officials have said so,” he added.

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