Netanyahu says Israel is ‘at war’ as Palestinians launch surprise air and ground attack from Gaza

Netanyahu says Israel is ‘at war’ as Palestinians launch surprise air and ground attack from Gaza
Netanyahu says Israel is ‘at war’ as Palestinians launch surprise air and ground attack from Gaza

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - GAZA AND JERUSALEM — Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that the country was “at war” on Saturday, after Palestinian militants in Gaza fired a deadly barrage of rockets and sent gunmen into Israeli territory in a major escalation of the long running conflict between the two sides.

Militants launched a barrage of about 2,200 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel, according to the Israeli military, while armed gunmen infiltrated into Israel by land, sea and air – in paragliders.

Multiple explosions were heard over Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and in southern Israel — some blasts likely the interceptions of incoming rockets — while air raids sent Israelis pouring into underground shelters.

The Israeli military said it was dealing with hostage incidents in two locations in southern Israel.

By the early afternoon, some 70 were dead and hundreds more were injured in Israel, according to Israel’s rescue service Magen David Adom (MDA). Israel responded by launching strikes on what it called Hamas targets in Gaza.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said that nearly 200 Palestinians had been killed and 1,610 injured, but did not say where the deaths occurred or whether the toll included Hamas militants or civilians in Gaza.

Netanyahu said operations were under way to clear out militants from infiltrated towns and that he had also issued a call-up of reservists.

“We are at war, not in an operation or in rounds, but at war,” Netanyahu said in a video statement, adding that Hamas, the Palestinian militant movement that runs Gaza, had “launched a murderous surprise attack against the state of Israel and its citizens.”

The surprise assault on Saturday was unprecedented in recent history in its scale and scope, falling on the 50th anniversary of the 1973 War in which Arab states blitzed Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said in a briefing that Israeli forces “are fighting on the ground as we speak,” listing multiple locations where fighting was taking place, including several villages, army bases and border crossings.

Hecht declined to answer repeated questions from journalists about whether the IDF had missed intelligence that the attack was coming.

Dubbing the operation “Al-Aqsa Storm,” Hamas military commander Muhammad Al-Deif said in a recorded message that the group had “targeted the enemy positions, airports and military positions with 5,000 rockets” and that the assault on Israel was a response to attacks on women, the desecration of the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and the ongoing siege of Gaza.

“If you have a gun, get it out. This is the time to use it — get out with trucks, cars, axes, today the best and most honorable history starts,” Al-Deif added.

The attacks by Hamas follow one of the deadliest periods in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in nearly two decades. The violence has been driven by frequent Israeli military raids in Palestinian towns and cities, which Israel has said are a necessary response to a rising number of attacks by Palestinian militants on Israelis.

They also come at a moment of deep division in Israel, months after the government pushed through a contentious plan to reduce the power of the country’s courts, sparking a social and political crisis.

The move this summer also struck a nerve with the military, prompting many reservists — the backbone of Israel’s army — to warn they would not come if called up, to protest the changes to the judicial system. An IDF spokesperson said Saturday that he did not know of any reservists refusing to be called up in the face of the latest attacks.

Police were responding to multiple locations and threats, Israel Police spokesman Dean Elsdunne said, adding that bomb squad technicians have been deployed to clear missile debris and shrapnel sites.

Another IDF spokesman, Brig. Gen. Daniel Hagari, said the military was fighting “in 22 locations,” without specifying further. He said there were hostage situations in two locations — Ofakim and Beeri.

Residents of Kibbutz Beeri and Kibbutz Nir Oz, two Israeli communities, told the country’s Channel 12 television station that assailants from Gaza were trying to break into their homes. They have repeatedly pleaded on television for assistance from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, as seen from Ashkelon on Friday.

One resident of Kibbutz Nir Oz told the broadcaster over the phone that his family, including two children ages 7 and 9, have barricaded themselves in a safe room while militants fired at the door.

Channel 12 also reported that infiltrators had taken hostages in Netiv HaAsara. Israeli authorities did not immediately confirm any details about those reports.

It is rare for Palestinian militants to be able to make it into Israel from Gaza which is sealed off and heavily watched by Israel’s military.

The IDF warned Israelis who live near Gaza to stay in their homes or head to shelters.

Hamas said it had captured several Israeli soldiers near the border. Israel’s military has not confirmed the reports, but one video published by Reuters appeared to show Palestinian gunmen dragging what looks like an Israeli soldier out of a tank at a fence separating Gaza from Israel.

Other videos published by the militant group show at least three men dressed in civilian clothing held at gunpoint; Hamas said the men were Israeli soldiers.

Social media footage obtained by CNN showed multiple masked gunmen in a pickup truck driving down a street in the Israeli city of Sderot. Gunfire could also be heard in the video.

The MDA said their teams were responding to areas where rockets had reportedly hit, as well as reported “live firing incidents,” and urged people to go to a protected area when an alarm sounds.

The rescue service added that one of its staffers had been killed and another four had been wounded in the attack, and one of their ambulances had been taken into Gaza.

Zaki Heller, the MDA’s spokesperson, urged people to donate blood and said a special blood donation drive is being organized in Tel Aviv for Saturday morning “due to an urgent need.”

Social media footage obtained by CNN showed the aftermath of a rocket strike in Ashkelon, a coastal city in southern Israel, where multiple cars could be seen burning next to an apartment complex, a thick plume of black smoke billowing into the air.

Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant were conducting security assessments at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu’s office said.

Gaza is one of the most densely packed places in the world, an isolated coastal enclave of almost 2 million people crammed into 140 square miles.

Governed by Hamas, the territory is largely cut off from the rest of the world by an Israeli blockade of Gaza’s land, air and sea dating back to 2007. Egypt controls Gaza’s southern border crossing, Rafah.

Israel has placed heavy restrictions on the freedom of civilian movement and controls the importation of basic goods into the narrow coastal strip.

The White House issued a statement condemning “the unprovoked attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians.”

“We stand firmly with the government and people of Israel and extend our condolences for the Israeli lives lost in these attacks,” said the statement from National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson.

Stephanie Hallett, the top American diplomat in Israel, wrote on social media: “I condemn the indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians. I am in contact with Israeli officials, and fully support Israel’s right to defend itself from such terrorist attacks.”

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the parties involved to “act with restraint in light of the events in Israel this morning and to stay away from impulsive steps that will escalate tensions,” while Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said he is in “intensive” communication with international officials to stop the ongoing escalation.

Many European leaders have taken to social media to denounce the violence.

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that she “unequivocally” condemned the violence. “It is terrorism in its most despicable form. Israel has the right to defend itself against such heinous attacks.”

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “full solidarity with the victims,” while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that “Germany condemns these Hamas attacks and stands by Israel.” — CNN

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