‘The Diamonds Are In Our Hands’ – Details of daring hostage liberation revealed

Elite forces disguised as Arabs, a fierce firefight and an escape via rescue helicopters under air force jets’ cover fire were all part of the operation that lasted under two hours.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The nitty-gritty details of the IDF’s rescue of four hostages Saturday from deep inside the Gaza Strip included elite forces disguised as Arabs, a fierce firefight, and a hair-raising escape via rescue helicopters, Ynet reported Sunday.

The green light for the mission was flashed by the war cabinet on Thursday night, after the Yamam counter-terrorist unit of the Israeli Police underwent weeks of intensive training, with constant intelligence updates keeping track of the hostages’ whereabouts.

Conditions aligned correctly for the operation Saturday morning at 10 a.m. Two Yamam groups dressed as Arabs made their way carefully to two small apartment buildings in the Nuseirat refugee camp near the Gazan coast.

Noa Argamani was being held in one building, while Almog Meir Jan, Shlomi Ziv and Andrey Kozlov were together in another one 200 meters away.

At 10:50, live video coverage of the area was sent to the Shabak and army command centers, where Shabak head Ronen Bar and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi were overseeing the operation. Ten minutes later, the two personally gave the command to go ahead.

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Between 11-11:10, the two teams rushed the apartments, and Argamani was whisked away quickly.

Trouble developed in the other rescue, as hundreds of Hamas terrorists responded to the Yamam force with heavy machine gun fire and the launching of RPGs over the next few minutes as the Israelis began their escape.

While the Israeli troops transmitted over the radio at 11:15 that “The diamonds are in our hands,” referring to the safe extraction of all four hostages, the rescue of the three male abductees was far from complete.

Chief Inspector Arnon Zamora, a senior Yamam commander, was hit during the firefight and badly injured, and the vehicle the Israelis were using to flee was hit by heavy fire and got stuck.

At 11:25, in a prearranged “Plan B,” navy vessels offshore and air force fighter planes and helicopters overhead started firing missiles at the Hamas forces while hundreds of soldiers from the 7th Armored, Paratroopers, Givati and Kfir Brigades stormed into the battle zone on foot and in tanks and APCs.

Within five minutes, the forces, working smoothly together, opened a safe route for the rescuers, who rushed together with the hostages into two Sikorsky helicopters that landed on the beach.

They were protected by the jets’ cover fire that hit pursuing terrorists who were just a few dozen yards away.

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At 11:50, the helicopters took off for Israeli hospitals, where Zamora was unfortunately declared dead from his severe wounds.

The mission, which was originally called Summer Seeds, was immediately renamed Operation Arnon in his honor.