Martha Raddatz presses IDF spokesperson over hostage rescue operation

ABC News anchor Martha Raddatz on Sunday pressed Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Peter Lerner over the Israeli operation that rescued four hostages, but reportedly killed dozens of civilians in the process, repeatedly asking for the necessity of the Israeli air strikes.

The IDF, along with two other units, carried out a special operation on Saturday at two different locations in Nuseirat in central Gaza to rescue four hostages being held by Hamas. The operation, which included a heavy air and ground assault, marked Israel’s largest rescue operation since its war with Hamas began last October.

Asked on ABC’s “This Week” to give a picture of the scale of the mission, Lerner said,  “This was an effort conducted and planned over several weeks in order to get the best result. And indeed, it came together with extensive intelligence, a – a massive intelligence – that  created a good grasp of how the enemy were holding the four hostages, and then was translated into an operational plan to actually bring them out.”

Lerner said the rescue of the hostages marked a “jubilant day” in Israel and he hopes Israeli forces can bring home the remaining hostages either through negotiations or similar special force operations.

Raddatz then addressed the operation’s death toll, which Israeli forces and Hamas significantly differed on. The Gaza Health Ministry on Sunday said at least 274 Palestinians died and nearly 700 others were wounded, while the IDF approximated fewer than 100 casualties.

Raddatz asked if the IDF factored in the loss of “so many Palestinians,” to which Lerner said, “we don’t know how many casualties were caused in the strike in the – in the release and rescue operation. And I’d be very cautious at accepting any figures and numbers that Hamas are putting out.”

The “This Week” co-anchor noted Israel is still saying fewer than 100, which she described as a “significant amount of casualties, and pressed Lerner over whether the deaths came from Israeli air strikes on Saturday.

“Well, for every civilian life lost in this war is a tragedy. Every civilian life lost in this war is a result of how Hamas has operated,” Lerner responded. “Let’s think about, just for a moment, where they were holding the hostages. Within civilian houses. Within people’s apartments. In the same apartment they were being held where the families that owned the apartments. This exemplifies specifically how Hamas operating.”

“And is that the reason for the air strikes? Tell me why those air strikes were – were necessary, why buildings were destroyed in that attack?” Raddatz asked.

“The forces came under fire from a 360-degree threat. RPGs, AK-47s, explosive devices on the way, mortar rounds. It was an is a war zone. And so civilians in that – the tragedy of civilians being caught up in this is precisely because of how Hamas is battling us on the battleground,” Lerner responded.

Israeli forces have repeatedly accused Hamas of using Palestinians in Gaza as “human shields,” against attacks in the Gaza Strip. More than 37,000 Palestinians have died since early October, per the Gaza Health Ministry.

The four rescued hostages were among the more than 100 individuals believed to still be in Hamas’s captivity in the Gaza Strip. The U.S.-designated terrorist group kidnapped more than 250 people from southern Israel during its surprise Oct. 7 assault, in which about 1,200 people were killed. About 100 hostages were released in a week-long cease-fire deal last November.

“Our responsibility, our first and foremost responsibility is to rescue the hostages, to bring them home, to create a better security situation for Israelis. And I would say for Palestinians alike,” Lerner said. “Hamas has to go. Hamas cannot be trusted with the powers of government because that is what they will do. “

Noting she and others are grateful the hostages are safe, Raddatz asked Lerner if similar rescue missions will take place to rescue the remaining hostages.

“The 120 hostages remain in the clutches of Hamas. There can be a rescue mission like what happened yesterday. But there could also have been negotiations that create the opportunity. Our role is to create the conditions either way, that Hamas realizes that they should give back the hostages, they should set the hostages free,” he answered.

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