Egypt has deployed dozens of main battle tanks and armored vehicles near the Rafah checkpoint on the border with the Gaza Strip.
According to the Times of Israel, there are “dozens of vehicles” near the border. The deployment of heavy military vehicles and tanks is due to Egypt’s suspicion of a possible inpouring of refugees from Gaza. Rafah is the only border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, Israel’s ground operations in the Gaza Strip have brought forth the first stated result. On October 30, the Israeli Defense Forces rescued a lone woman soldier who was abducted during the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7 and kept hostage by the Palestinian group Hamas inside the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military informed the media that it had freed its soldier, Private Ori Megidish, 19 years of age, between October 29 and October 30 night. IDF’s spokesperson, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, was quoted by the New York Times, saying the rescue occurred during the ongoing ground operations to flush out the Hamas fighters inside the Gaza Strip.
However, Conricus declined to reveal where exactly she was found held hostage by Hamas. He, however, said the soldier was in good physical and mental health and has now returned home to meet with her family. Israeli soldier Megidish is the first to be rescued alive by the Israeli military, Colonel Conricus said. Hamas has released four other hostages.
Megidish was abducted by the Hamas fighters on October 7 from an Israeli military base following the attacks on Israel. Over 220 persons, including some foreign nationals of Jewish descent, had been captured by Hamas on the day it surprised the Israeli government, military, intelligence agencies, and the people with its brutal attacks that left nearly 1,400 killed.
She was abducted after Hamas gunmen overran and briefly captured a military base in Nahal Oz, just east of the northern Gaza Strip, where she served as a field observer, according to Ynet, an Israeli news outlet. Field observers watch for threats along the Gaza border by analyzing video filmed by cameras positioned along the border fences.
After providing the Israeli security services with helpful information during a debrief, she returned home to her family in Kiryat Gat, in southern Israel, Colonel Conricus said. A video posted on social media showed her being celebrated at a joyous family gathering that included playing a shofar, a Jewish ceremonial horn.
Her return set off celebrations in Israel, even among people who had never met her. According to television reporters who broadcast from the scene, dozens gathered to celebrate outside Megidish’s family home; some were relatives and neighbors, but others did not previously know her or anyone in the family.
An aunt, identified as Smadar, told a television channel: “It’s a great joy, we’re excited, we thank the Lord, the people of Israel, our soldiers. This is thanks to you.” Around her, people waved Israeli flags and sang “Am Yisrael Chai,” a Jewish anthem that means: “The people of Israel live.”
Megidish was one of the dozens of field observers at the Nahal Oz base on October 7, according to a documentary about the attack by Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster. Only two escaped death or abduction, the documentary said.
At around 6 a.m. that day, Hamas terrorists breached the base’s gates and entered soldiers’ rooms, killing some and abducting others. In a video posted by Hamas after the attack, Megidish was seen with her hands handcuffed together, standing beside other captured soldiers, all women, from the base, the NYT report said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described her release online as an “important and moving achievement, which expresses our commitment to bring about the release of all the hostages.”
Israel Under Immense Pressure To Exchange Hostages For Prisoners
Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu government has been under tremendous pressure to exchange the Israeli hostages in Hamas custody with Palestinians who are in Israeli prisons. Families of the 200-odd hostages have been calling for prisoner exchange, and their voices have gained support to persuade the Netanyahu government to swap them for the hostages with Hamas.
In a direct meeting with Netanyahu on October 29, the hostages’ relatives delivered that message. They set up a protest site outside Israel’s defense ministry to press for their demand. A Guardian report said Giora Eiland, a former head of the Israeli National Security Council, and the newspaper Haaretz swelled the chorus of calls to exchange about 5,000 Palestinians — including Hamas militants — for the captives in Gaza.
Among the top priorities listed by Netanyahu during ground operations launched last week was the rescue of the hostages, a goal set at par with defeating and eliminating Hamas. However, the hostages’ families believe the IDF operations were jeopardizing the safety of those in Hamas custody.
The leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said on October 28 that the group was ready for an immediate swap of all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in return for Israeli captives in Gaza. An Israel Defence Forces spokesperson said the statement’s timing was “psychological terror” and that the army was doing everything possible to recover the hostages.
The Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said the offensive was partly intended to induce Hamas to make concessions. “If there is no military pressure on Hamas, nothing will progress.”
Yet, there are other voices inside Israel, such as families of some hostages who support the IDF offensive and oppose appeasement of Hamas through a prisoner swap, citing the involvement of militants released in 2011 swap for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in the October 7 attacks. Ayelet Samerano, whose son Jonathan was abducted, expressed confidence in the IDF strategy. “My army knows exactly what to do.”
The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, an umbrella name for groups of relatives, has avoided making prescriptions. “We are telling the army and the government to bring back our people,” said Haim Rubinstein, a spokesperson. “We are not telling them how to do it.”
Eiland, the former security adviser and a retired major general, said saving the hostages was the most urgent challenge. “Israel would be right to make two concessions to secure the release of all of the hostages: to release all 5,000 Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israel, and to postpone temporarily a more aggressive operation in Gaza,” he wrote in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.
- NC Bipindra is a 30-year veteran in journalism specializing in strategic affairs, geopolitics, aerospace, defense, and diplomacy. He has written extensively for the Times of India, New Indian Express, Press Trust of India, and Bloomberg News. He can be reached ncbipindra (at) gmail.com
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