The release of four hostages held in Gaza was welcomed in Israel on Sunday, while Hamas said 274 people were killed and hundreds injured during the Israeli army’s operation in a densely populated area of ​​the Palestinian territory.

Benny Gantz, member of the Israeli war cabinet led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced his resignation from the government on Sunday, after issuing an ultimatum to his rival on the post-war in Gaza.

“We are leaving the unity government with a heavy heart,” declared this rival of Mr. Netanyahu during a solemn speech on television.

On Saturday, Israeli special forces clashed with heavy weapons against Palestinian militants in the Nusseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. They intervened to free the four hostages held in two buildings and then evacuated them aboard helicopters.

The Israeli army said its soldiers and the hostages came under heavy fire from guns and grenades, which caused the death of a police officer.

The Hamas Ministry of Health claimed that 274 people had been killed and 698 injured, denouncing a “massacre”. This assessment could not be independently verified. At least 64 children, 57 women and 37 elderly people are among the victims, according to the same source.

“My child was crying, scared by the sound of the plane shooting at us,” said a Gaza woman, Hadeel Radwan, 32, recounting how she fled the fighting with her seven-month-old daughter in her arms: “We all thought we weren’t going to survive.”

The freed hostages – Noa Argamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41 – had been kidnapped from the site of the Nova electronic music festival during the unprecedented attack of Hamas on October 7 in Israel, which sparked the war in Gaza against the Palestinian Islamist movement.  

Many Israelis cried tears of joy upon hearing of the release of the four hostages. The army released images of the ex-hostages kissing their family members, and the government press service published images of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting them in hospital.

On Sunday, Israeli army operations continued in the Gaza Strip. Four members of the same family were killed and several others injured by an airstrike that hit their home in Gaza City (north), according to doctors at Al-Ahli hospital.

In the center of the Palestinian territory, witnesses reported helicopter fire east of the Al-Bureij camp and artillery fire in Deir al-Balah. Heavy weapons fire was also reported in Rafah (south).

In the ninth month of the devastating war between Israel and Hamas, the release of the four hostages on Saturday reinforces the military strategy of the Israeli Prime Minister, under strong pressure abroad and domestically.

Saying she was “relieved” by the release of the hostages, the UN special rapporteur in the Palestinian territories, Francesca Albanese, deplored that it was “at the cost of at least 200 Palestinians killed, including children, and more than 400 injured.”

Welcoming the “messages of support” in large numbers, the head of Israeli diplomacy, Israel Katz, regretted that “only the enemies of Israel complained about the victims (among) the Hamas terrorists and their accomplices”. “We will continue to act with determination and strength,” he added in a statement.

The Israeli army left behind a spectacle of desolation, according to images from AFPTV: charred cars, gutted or ruined buildings, fires and smoking rubble. Men make their way through the debris to try to put out flames or help the injured, others are gathered around bodies wrapped in blankets.

In Israel, it was a time of relief and celebration, with the Hostage Families Forum hailing a “miraculous triumph”.

“At home,” headlined two major Israeli dailies on their front pages on Sunday, Yediot Aharonot and Israel Hayom. Financial newspaper Calcalist hailed a “heroic operation” that gave the Israelis “a few hours of grace.”

The attack carried out on October 7 by Hamas commandos infiltrated from Palestinian territory resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people in Israel, the majority civilians, according to an AFP count based on official data.

During this attack, 251 people were taken as hostages. After a short truce in November which allowed the release of around a hundred of them, 116 hostages are still being held in the Gaza Strip, of whom 41 are dead, according to the Israeli army.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, which took power in Gaza in 2007 and which it considers a terrorist organization along with the United States and the European Union.

At least 37,084 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed there since October 7, according to data from the Health Ministry of the Hamas-led Gaza government.

The American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is expected in the coming days in Israel, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan, to “promote a ceasefire proposal” recently presented by President Joe Biden, according to Washington.

Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s national security adviser, told CBS on Sunday that he was “still waiting to hear from the Qataris and the Egyptians who are the mediators” between Hamas and Israel on developments in the peace talks. ‘a truce accompanied by the release of hostages.