In a shocking turn of events, at least 22 people have lost their lives in Israel as a result of a surprise attack by militants who crossed into Israeli territory from Gaza amidst a heavy rocket barrage.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that a number of Israelis have been taken hostage and transported back to Gaza.
In response to this unprecedented attack, Israel has launched a series of retaliatory air strikes on targets in Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that Israel is now in a state of war and vowed that Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, will face severe consequences like never before.
“This morning Hamas launched a murderous surprise attack against the state of Israel and its citizens,” Prime Minister Netanyahu stated in a video address.
The audacious attack saw Palestinian militants breaching the heavily fortified perimeter fence at dawn, simultaneous to a barrage of rockets being launched from Gaza. How these militants managed to penetrate one of the world’s most heavily fortified borders remains unclear.
The Israeli military has reported that numerous fighter jets are currently conducting air strikes on Hamas sites in Gaza, targeting 17 Hamas military compounds. Additionally, tens of thousands of reservists have been mobilized.
Tragically, at least two Palestinians have lost their lives in the Israeli air strikes, according to local health officials.
The rocket barrages from Gaza began early on Saturday, coinciding with the Jewish Sabbath and the festival of Simchat Torah. Sirens sounded across Israel as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) announced the infiltration of “terrorists” into Israeli territory at various locations.
Footage circulating online appears to show heavily armed Palestinian militants in black fatigues driving through the town of Sderot in a pickup truck. In one video, these militants appear to be engaged in a firefight with Israeli forces in the vicinity, just 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) from Gaza.
There are also unconfirmed reports from Palestinian media suggesting that a number of Israelis have been taken hostage by the militants, with footage showing Palestinians in Gaza operating Israeli military vehicles.
The Hamas attacks have left 545 Israelis wounded, according to Israel’s health ministry. One regional council leader in southern Israel, Ofir Liebstein, lost his life in an exchange of fire with militants while defending his community.
Throughout Saturday morning, rocket barrages continued, with thousands of projectiles launched towards Israel. Hospitals in cities like Ashkelon and Beer Sheva have been inundated with casualties.
Prime Minister Netanyahu emphasized the gravity of the situation, stating, “Citizens of Israel, we are at war, not an operation, not an escalation, a war.”
He further declared, “I convened the heads of the security system, first of all, I instructed to cleanse the settlements of the terrorists who had infiltrated – this operation is being carried out during these hours. At the same time, I ordered an extensive reserve mobilization and a retaliatory war with a strength and scope that the enemy has never known.”
A senior Hamas military commander, Mohammed Deif, announced the commencement of the operation via a broadcast on Hamas media, calling on Palestinians worldwide to join the fight.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chaired an emergency meeting and defended the Palestinian people’s right to defend themselves against the “terror of settlers and occupation troops.”
Israeli government officials have launched a major investigation into how their intelligence failed to anticipate this well-coordinated attack.
As tensions escalate, streets in the capital Tel Aviv have been locked down and are eerily empty. International condemnation has poured in, with the UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly condemning the attacks and reaffirming the UK’s support for Israel’s right to self-defense.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen characterized the attack as “terrorism in its most despicable form,” while the United States urged both sides to refrain from further violence.
Iran, however, has openly supported the Palestinian attack, congratulating the fighters involved.