Hamas surprise attack on Israel:Hamas militants fired thousands of rockets at Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip and deployed dozens of fighters in an unprecedented early attack on Saturday, a Jewish holiday, killing dozens and shocking the country. Israel said it was currently at war with Hamas and launched airstrikes on Gaza, vowing to pay an “unprecedented price”.
Hamas militants were still engaged in gun battles in several Israeli neighborhoods hours after the invasion began. Israel’s National Rescue Service said at least 70 people were killed and hundreds injured in Israel’s worst attack in years. An unknown number of Israeli soldiers and civilians have also been captured and taken to Gaza, an extremely sensitive issue for Israel.
Israel’s retaliation in Gaza has killed at least 198 people and injured at least 1,610, according to Gaza’s Palestinian Ministry of Health. The intensity, sophistication and timing of the attack shocked the Israelis. Hamas fighters used explosives to breach the border fence into the long-blocked Mediterranean area before crossing the coast on motorbikes, pickup trucks, paragliders and speedboats. Dead bodies of Israeli civilians and Hamas fighters can be seen on the streets of Israeli cities. Associated Press photos show a kidnapped elderly Israeli woman surrounded by gunmen being driven back to Gaza in a golf cart, while another woman is sandwiched between two militants on a motorcycle. Images appeared on social media showing militants driving captured Israeli military vehicles through the streets of Gaza, with a crowd dragging and trampling a dead Israeli soldier.
The attack threatens to escalate into a wider conflict, mirroring previous clashes between Israel and the Hamas militia that rules Gaza, which have caused widespread death and destruction in Gaza. Israeli cities have also been hit by rocket attacks for several days. “We are at war,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised speech announcing the massive military mobilization. “Not ‘action’, not ’round’, but war.”
“The enemy will pay an unprecedented price,” he added, promising that Israel would “fight back on a scale unknown to the enemy.”
Mohammed Deif, the shadow leader of Hamas’ military wing, said the attack was a response to the 16-year blockade of Gaza, Israeli attacks on West Bank cities last year and violence at Al-Aqsa. The Temple Mount from a Jewish perspective – Settler attacks on Palestinians increase and settlements expand. “Enough is enough,” Dave, who has not been seen publicly, said in the recording. He said the morning attack was just the beginning 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 renew the revolution.”
Netanyahu told a meeting of senior security officials on Saturday that the first priority was to “destroy” the infiltrators in southern Israel before a wider retaliation in Gaza.
The serious breaking of the Simchat Torah, usually a joyous day when Jews finish their annual reading of Torah scrolls, evoked painful memories of the 1973 Middle East war nearly 50 years ago, when Egypt and Syria launched surprise attacks on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a day on the Jewish calendar. The holiest day to recover the occupied territories of Israel. Comparisons to one of the most painful moments in Israel’s history have fueled criticism of Netanyahu and his far-right allies, who campaigned for more aggressive action to counter the threat from Gaza. Political commentators criticized the government for failing to anticipate Hamas attacks, which did not occur at the level of its planning and coordination. When a reporter asked how Hamas was able to capture the Israeli military, Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said, “That’s a good question.”
The Israeli military has fired about 2,500 rockets at targets in Gaza and issued air strike warnings as far away as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) away. Its forces are reportedly engaged in gun battles with Hamas militants, who have infiltrated Israel in at least seven locations.
Kidnapping of Israeli civilians and soldiers presents a particularly difficult problem for Israel. It is not clear how many there are. Video released by Hamas appears to show at least three Israelis being captured alive, and AP photos show at least three civilians being taken to Gaza. The Israeli army confirmed that some Israelis had been captured. A senior Hamas official, Saleh Al Arouri, told Al Jazeera that his organization is holding a “large number” of Israeli prisoners, including senior military officers. He said they would be used for prisoner exchanges to free Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. Neither side said how much. Israel has a very uneven exchange history when it comes to repatriating captive Israelis.
The militants’ push into southern Israel marks a major escalation by Hamas, prompting Israelis to seek safe havens in the area. In the city of Sderot, at least six bodies of people shot dead at a bus stop were placed on stretchers in the street. The bags they were carrying were left on the curb and inappropriate shoes littered the sidewalk. Elsewhere, an Israeli woman knelt in the street, hugging a dead family member, whose body lay next to a pink motorcycle that had been overturned on its side. The driver’s hands were covered in gloves and his feet in racing boots sticking out from under the sheet. Terrified residents huddled indoors at the Nahal Oz kibbutz, just 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from Gaza, said they heard gunfire coming from inside the buildings as the fighting continued.
“With missiles, we feel safer because we know we have an iron dome (missile defense system) and a safe space. But knowing that there are terrorists operating in the community is a different kind of fear,” said Miriam Reijnen, a 42-year-old volunteer firefighter and mother of three in Nahal Oz province.
Israeli Defense Minister Yov Galante warned in a televised speech that Hamas had made a “serious mistake” and promised that “the State of Israel will win this war.”
Western countries condemned the invasion and reiterated their support for Israel, while others called on both sides to exercise restraint.
“The United States unequivocally condemns the unprovoked attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson. “We stand firmly with the government and people of Israel and express our condolences to the Israelis who lost their lives in these attacks.”
Watson said national security adviser Jake Sullivan had spoken with Israeli Foreign Minister Chachi Hanegbi.
Saudi Arabia, which is in talks with the United States to normalize relations with Israel, issued a statement calling on both sides to exercise restraint. Saudi Arabia said it had repeatedly warned of “the risk of an explosive situation due to the continued occupation (and) denial of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”
The attack took place at a time of historic disagreement in Israel over judicial reform proposed by Netanyahu. Mass protests against the plan have brought hundreds of thousands of Israeli protesters to the streets and forced hundreds of reservists to avoid voluntary service, a shake-up that has raised concerns about the military’s battlefield readiness and raised questions about concerns about enemy deterrence. Meanwhile, tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have risen, with the peace process effectively stalled for years and Israel’s occupation unresolved, leaving Palestinians increasingly desperate. Over the past year, Israel’s far-right government has stepped up settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli settler violence has displaced hundreds of Palestinians and heightened tensions over holy sites in Jerusalem. Saturday’s major attack threatens to damage Netanyahu’s reputation as a security expert who wants to protect Israel at all costs. It also raises questions about the cohesion of the security apparatus, which is crucial for stability in a country mired in low-intensity conflict on several fronts and facing threats from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Hezbollah congratulated Hamas and hailed the attack as a response to “Israeli crimes” and said the militants had received “divine support”. The group said its command in Lebanon was in contact with Hamas about the operation.
Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007. Since then, the bitter enemies have fought four wars. The blockade, which restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, has devastated the territory’s economy. Israel says the blockade is aimed at preventing armed groups from building up arsenals. Palestinians say the blockade is collective punishment. Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed in an Israeli military assault on the West Bank, which has seen fierce fighting. Israel said the attack targeted militants, but protesters who threw stones and were not involved in the violence were also killed. More than 30 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets.
Tensions have also spread to Gaza, where Hamas-linked activists have staged violent demonstrations near the Israeli border in recent weeks. The demonstrations ended in late September after international mediation.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are expected to give speeches soon, several officials with knowledge of the matter said. Senior officials in the Biden administration said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan had contacted his Israeli counterpart about the situation in Israel. National Security Council officials at all levels are also in contact with colleagues. Meanwhile, some other countries responded as follows:
UAE: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement stressed the need to “stop the escalation between Palestine and Israel” and “protect human life”.
“The UAE calls for maximum restraint and an immediate ceasefire to avoid dangerous consequences,” state-run WAM said in a statement.
SPAIN: Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Alvarez said Spain strongly condemned the “very serious terrorist attacks on Israel from Gaza” and said it was “shocked by this uneven violence”.
“We express our solidarity with the victims. Spain is firmly committed to peace, security and stability in the region,” he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Italy: “The Italian government is very aware of the brutal attacks in Israel. It strongly condemns the continued acts of terrorism and violence against innocent civilians and supports Israel’s right to self-defense. Terror will never win,” said the Italian president.