An Israeli soldier who was abducted by Hamas has been rescued in a special joint operation, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told CNN, the first successful hostage extrication since the militant group’s October 7 rampage.
In its initial announcement, the IDF said Pvt. Ori Megidish was “released.” But that was a translation error, IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday.
Megidish was among over 200 hostages held by Hamas and was “actively rescued” with “boots on the ground” in a joint operation between the IDF and the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) which is also known as Shin Bet, Conricus said.
With Israel declaring a “new phase of war” as it started ground operations last Friday, Conricus said that “based on intelligence” the Israeli special forces went into northern Gaza knowing her whereabouts and rescued her.
“It indeed was a special operation that was targeted in specifically getting her out,” he said.
“They were in there for a job,” Conricus said, adding that he is happy with the outcome as Megidish is “well mentally and physically,” and has reunited with her family.
Megidish has also shared information about her captivity with Israeli intelligence officers that “can be used for the future,” Conricus added.
“We are definitely committed to get all of our 238 hostages currently held by Hamas in Gaza, all of them, to get them home,” he said, but stopped short on whether there are other similar operations planned based on intelligence about the remaining hostages’ whereabouts.
The hostage rescue comes amid growing international pressure on the Israeli government to secure the release of others held captive in Gaza for more than three weeks since Hamas’ rampage in Israel that killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians.
According to an estimate released by the Israeli Government Press Office last week, 135 hostages holding foreign passports from 25 countries are among those held in Gaza, including civilian men, women, children and the elderly as well as soldiers.
Hamas, the militant group the runs Gaza, has so far released just four hostages – two frail Israeli elderly women and an American mother and daughter – but negotiations to free a large number of captives are being complicated by Israel’s expansion of its ground operations into the besieged territory.
Qatar has been a key conduit in deliberating Hamas. But Majed Al-Ansari, the spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and adviser to the Qatari prime minister, told CNN on Saturday that Israel’s escalation on the ground is making the situation “considerably more difficult.”
In response to those comments, Conricus said he “would argue that the reality on the ground dictates differently” based on the IDF’s rescue of Megidish.
Israel has said its intensifying ground offensive puts additional pressure on Hamas, and therefore may ultimately be helpful in the ongoing efforts to free hostages.
Conricus also alleged that Hamas is indulging in psychological warfare by using hostages as leverage.
“The way that Hamas has been behaving so far is that they’re trying to leverage their hostages … in order to alleviate their combat situation and the tactical situation on the ground,” he said.
Conricus, who did not rule out other potential hostage rescue missions in the future, told CNN that Israeli forces on the ground are expecting “fierce resistance” and “tunnel warfare, booby traps, IEDS, anti-tank mines, snipers, and many other things,” but so far “progress is good.”
He added that the Israeli military is making “considerable efforts, now in the ground warfare, to distinguish between combatants and non-combatant,” adding they are “moving slowly and deliberately.”
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