As warning sirens wailed across southern and central Israel, including in Jerusalem, Israel’s military said it was on a war footing and the defence minister said the Iran-backed Hamas had made a “grave mistake” by declaring war on Israel.
“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 Israeli military said it had launched airstrikes into Gaza, where witnesses reported hearing heavy explosions.
At least 40 Israelis were killed in the incursion and about 740 others were wounded, Israel’s N12 News reported.
The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza reported injuries among “many citizens” without giving numbers.
The attack marked an unprecedented infiltration by an unknown number of Hamas gunmen into Israel from Gaza, and one of the most serious escalations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in years. Israeli media reported gun battles between bands of Palestinian fighters and security forces in towns in southern Israel.
In Gaza, people rushed to buy supplies in anticipation of days of conflict ahead. Some evacuated their homes and headed for shelters.
Hamas military commander Mohammad Deif announced the start of the operation in a broadcast on Hamas media, calling on Palestinians everywhere to fight.
“This is the day of the greatest battle to end the last occupation on earth,” he said, adding that 5,000 rockets had been launched.
‘Fighting the enemy at every location’
The last major flareup between Israel and Hamas was a 10-day war in 2021.
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.
The Israeli military said its forces were operating inside Gaza but gave no details.
“A number of terrorists have infiltrated into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip,” the military said in a statement, adding that residents in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip had been told to stay in their homes.
Israeli media reported that gunmen had opened fire on passersby in the town of Sderot, in southern Israel, and footage circulating on social media appeared to show clashes in city streets as well as gunmen in jeeps roaming the countryside.
“We were told there are terrorists inside the kibbutz, we can hear gunfire,” a young woman named Dvir, from Beeri Kibbutz, told Israeli Army Radio from her bomb shelter.
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 been driven into Israel by the attackers.
Reuters was not immediately able to verify the footage.
Palestinian media also reported that a number of Israelis had been taken captive by fighters and Hamas media circulated video footage apparently showing a destroyed Israeli tank.
The Israeli military was aware of reports of captives, a security source said, but provided no further details. In a briefing with reporters, an Israeli military spokesman declined to comment.
Calling up army reserves
Netanyahu’s office said he would meet top security officials in the coming hours and Gallant 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.”
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