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Israel rescues 4 hostages kidnapped in a Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel said Saturday it rescued four hostages who were kidnapped in a Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7, in the largest such hostage recovery operation since the war with Hamas began in Gaza.

The army said it rescued Noa Argamani, 25; Almog Meir Jan, 21; Andrey Kozlov, 27; and Shlomi Ziv, 40, in a complex special daytime operation in Nuseirat. The hostages were rescued in two separate locations in the heart of Nuseirat, it said.

Hamas kidnapped some 250 hostages during its attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, which triggered the Israel-Hamas war. About half were released in a weeklong cease-fire in November. Israel says more than 130 hostages remain, with about a quarter of those believed dead, and divisions are deepening in the country over the best way to bring them home.

The rescue comes as international pressure mounts on Israel to limit civilian bloodshed in its war in Gaza, which reached its eighth month on Friday. Seeking a breakthrough in the apparently stalled cease-fire negotiations between Israel and Hamas, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return to the Middle East next week.

Israel’s offensive has killed at least 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between fighters and civilians in its figures.

Saturday’s operation is the largest recovery of alive hostages since the war erupted, bringing the total of rescued captives to seven.

Two men were rescued in February when troops stormed a heavily guarded apartment in a densely packed town and another hostage, a woman, was rescued in the aftermath of October's attack. Israeli troops have so far recovered at least 16 bodies of hostages from Gaza, according to the government.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing growing pressure to end the fighting in Gaza, with many Israelis urging him to embrace a deal announced last month by U.S. President Joe Biden, but far-right allies threatening to collapse his government if he does.

One of those rescued on Saturday, Argamani, has been one of the most widely recognized hostages since she was abducted from a music festival.

The video of her abduction was among the first to surface, images of her horrified face widely shared — Argamani detained between two men on a motorcycle, one arm outstretched and the other held down as she screams “Don’t kill me!”

Her mother, Liora, has stage four brain cancer and in April released a video pleading to see her daughter before she dies.