The Associated Press — Under cover of a barrage of rockets, dozens of Hamas militants broke out of the blockaded Gaza Strip and into nearby Israeli towns, killing hundreds and abducting others in an unprecedented surprise early morning attack during a major Jewish holiday Saturday.
In an assault of startling breadth, Hamas gunmen rolled into as many as 22 locations outside the Gaza Strip, including towns and other communities as far as 24 kilometres from the Gaza border.
In some places, they roamed for hours, gunning down civilians and soldiers as Israel’s military scrambled to muster a response. Gun battles continued well after nightfall, and militants held hostages in standoffs in two towns.
Israel’s national rescue service said at least 200 people were killed and 1,100 wounded, making it the deadliest attack in Israel in decades.
At least 198 people in the Gaza Strip have been killed and at least 1,610 wounded in Israeli strikes, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
After nightfall, airstrikes intensified, flattening several residential buildings in giant explosions, including a 14-storey tower that held dozens of apartments as well as Hamas offices in central Gaza City.
Israeli fired a warning just before, and there were no reports of casualties.
Soon after, Hamas fired a barrage of rockets into central Israel, hitting four cities, including Tel Aviv and a nearby suburb, where two people were seriously injured.
A shocking scale of attack
The strength, sophistication and timing of the Saturday morning attack shocked Israelis. Hamas fighters used explosives to break through the border fence enclosing the long-blockaded Mediterranean territory, then crossed with motorcycles, pickup trucks, paragliders and speed boats on the coast.
“We are at war,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised address, declaring a mass mobilization of the country’s army reserves. “Not an ‘operation,’ not a ’round,’ but at war.”
“The enemy will pay an unprecedented price,” he added, promising that Israel would “return fire of a magnitude that the enemy has not known.”
The leader of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Deif, said the assault was in response to the 16-year blockade of Gaza, Israeli raids inside West Bank cities over the past year, as well as increasing attacks by settlers on Palestinians and growth of settlements.
“Enough is enough,” Deif, who does not appear in public, said in the recorded message. He said the morning attack was only the start of what he called “Operation Al-Aqsa Storm” and called on Palestinians from east Jerusalem to northern Israel to join the fight. “Today the people are regaining their revolution.”
Concern for Israeli captives
Asked by reporters how Hamas had managed to catch the army off guard, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli army spokesman, replied, “That’s a good question.”
The abduction of Israeli civilians and soldiers also raised a particularly thorny issue for Israel. Israel has a history of making heavily lopsided exchanges in order to bring captive Israelis home.
Videos released by Hamas appeared to show at least three Israelis captured alive, and Associated Press photos showed at least three civilians brought into Gaza, including the two women. Israeli television showed images of a young man stripped down to his pants being led on foot in a chokehold and reported that elderly women with dementia as well as workers from Thailand and the Philippines were among the captives.
The Israeli military confirmed that a number of Israelis had been taken captive. A spokesman for Hamas’ military wing, Abu Obeida, said the group was holding dozens of Israeli soldiers captive in “safe places” and tunnels in the Gaza Strip.
If true, the claim could set the stage for complicated negotiations on a swap with Israel, which is holding thousands of Palestinians in its prisons.
‘Fighting the enemy at every location’
Speaking to Israel N12 News by phone from a Nir Oz, a kibbutz near Gaza, a woman identified as Dorin said militants had infiltrated her house and tried to open the bomb shelter where she was hiding.
“They just came in again, please send help,” she said. “There are a lot of homes harmed … My husband is holding the door closed … They are firing rounds of bullets.”
Israeli Defence Minister Gallant said Hamas had “launched a war against the State of Israel.” Israeli “troops are fighting against the enemy at every location,” he said.
Energy Minister Israel Katz said Israel will cut off its supply of electricity to Gaza.
Hamas media displayed videos of what it said was bodies of Israeli soldiers brought into Gaza by fighters, and Palestinian gunmen inside Israeli homes and touring an Israeli town in jeeps reportedly driven into Israel by the attackers.
Reuters was not immediately able to verify the footage.
Calling up army reserves
Netanyahu’s office said Israel’s defence minister has authorized the callup of reservists.
The acting U.S. ambassador to Israel, Stephanie Hallett, condemned the “indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians” and said the U.S. supports “Israel’s right to defend itself from such terrorist acts.”
The president of the European Commission, also said Israel has a right to defend itself “against such heinous attacks.”
U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States was ready to offer “all appropriate means of support” to Israel after speaking by phone to the Israeli prime minister.
Saudi Arabia, which has been in talks with the U.S. about normalizing relations with Israel, released a statement calling on both sides to exercise restraint. The kingdom said it had repeatedly warned about “the dangers of the situation exploding as a result of the continued occupation (and) the Palestinian people being deprived of their legitimate rights.”
Advertise with the mоѕt vіѕіtеd nеwѕ ѕіtе іn Antigua!
We offer fully customizable and flexible digital marketing packages.
Contact us at [email protected]