As Israel retaliated with air strikes, the SDEROT-Palestinian militant organization Hamas launched a massive surprise attack on it on Saturday, firing thousands of rockets from Gaza and sending ground forces to kill or kidnap people.
The bloodiest escalation of the Israel-Palestinian conflict since May 2021 resulted in at least 40 fatalities in Israel and 198 deaths in Gaza, according to Gaza authorities.
As the military launched a string of attacks against Hamas supported by Iran in the blockaded coastal enclave, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared,” We are at war.”
After Hamas launched its first such combined air, ground, and sea offensive on a Jewish holiday and fifty years after the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the right-wing veteran premier vowed that” the enemy will pay an unprecedented price.”
Around 6:30 am( 0330 GMT ), the Islamist group launched a surprise attack, firing thousands of rockets at towns and cities all the way to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, some of which evaded the Iron Dome’s defenses and struck structures.
As terrified locals hid out in bunkers, Hamas fighters broke through the blockaded Gaza security barrier and attacked nearby Israeli towns and military posts while traveling in cars, boats, and even motorized paragliders.
In the town of Sderot, which is close to Gaza, bodies could be seen lying on the streets.
” Please send assistance!” According to Israeli media, one Israeli woman who was taking refuge with her two-year-old child begged for help after militants outside tried to break into their safe room and opened fire on her home.
Armed Palestinians gathered around a partially engulfed Israeli tank, and others were seen driving an Israeli Humvee back to Gaza City, according to AFP journalists.
” Gates of Hell”
Major General Ghasan Alyan of the Israeli army forewarned Hamas that he had” opened the gates of hell” and would be held accountable for his actions.
In a defensive operation known as” Swords of Iron,” the army claimed that its forces were engaged in combat with Palestinian militants on the ground in several locations close to the Gaza Strip.
According to Israeli authorities, 30 people were killed by gunfire and 10 by rocket fire.
As global concern grew, Hamas asserted that he had captured several Israelis, raising the possibility of a much wider escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The group released a video in which its fighters were seen holding three civilian-clad men who were captioned as” enemy soldiers.”
The conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinians has intensified over the past few months, primarily in the West Bank that has been occupied, and at contentious Jerusalem holy sites.
In a statement posted on Telegram, Hamas referred to its attack as Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and urged” resistance fighters in the West Bank” as well as” Arab and Islamic nations” to join the conflict.
The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Israel’s armed wing, declared,” We decided to put an end to all the crimes of the occupation ( Israel ). ” They have served their time for rampaging without being held accountable.”
” We declare Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, and we fire more than 5,000 rockets in the first 20-minute strike.”
Israel reportedly counted at least 2,200 rockets aimed at its territory, according to army spokesman Richard Hecht.
In Jerusalem, where AFP journalists heard multiple rockets being intercepted by Israeli air defense systems, air raid sirens sounded throughout southern and central Israel.
An AFP photographer in Tel Aviv observed people boarding buses to find safety in hotels after spotting a gaping hole in the building.
People were advised to avoid bomb shelters by the army.
In the Israeli city of Ashkelon, north of Gaza, rocket impacts caused cars to catch fire beneath homes.
A gunfight with assailants claimed the life of the president of a regional council for Israeli communities northeast of Gaza.
According to Thailand’s Foreign Ministry, a Thai national who was employed in the Israeli settlement of Mivtahim, which is located close to Gaza, was” shot to the leg.”
Hecht claimed that despite reports of Israeli capture, Hamas had carried out a combined raid using” paragliders, through the sea and on the ground.”
The Israeli response, according to Netanyahu, will be” of a magnitude that the enemy has not known.”
Israel’s crippling blockade of the 2.3 million-person impoverished enclave after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 was the result.
Since then, Israel and Hamas have engaged in numerous conflicts. 34 Palestinians and one Israeli were killed in the most recent significant exchange, which took place in May.
Hundreds of people left their homes in northern Gaza on Saturday in order to avoid the Israeli-Palestinian border, according to an AFP correspondent. As they looked for safety, men, women, and kids carried food and blankets.
An AFP reporter saw eight bodies in the morgue at the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, and another covered the funeral of a ninth victim in southern Gaza’s Khan Yunis.
Some Palestinians cheered and blew their car horns in the Israeli-annexation of east Jerusalem as sirens blared.
The attacks by Hamas, who are regarded as a terrorist group by the European Union, the United States, and Israel, were harshly denounced in Western capitals.
However, Hamas received backing from other Israel-haters, with Iran’s supreme leader declaring that he was” proud” of his actions.
The” heroic operation on a grand scale” was hailed by the militant Lebanese organization Hezbollah, which waged an agonizing war against Israel in 2006.
The” horrifying Hamas terrorist attacks” were brought to US President Joe Biden’s attention, according to the White House.
The attack was referred to as” terrorism in its most despicable form” by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.
Tor Wennesland, a UN representative for Middle East peace, called for everyone to” pull back from the brink” after claiming that the assault had created” a dangerous precipice.”
Since the beginning of last year, there has been an increase in violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
According to Israeli and Palestinian officials, the conflict has already claimed at least 247 Palestinian lives, 32 Israelis, and two foreigners so far this year, including both combatants and civilians.
Since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israel has occupied the West Bank, which is where the vast majority of fatalities have taken place.