Gunmen from the Palestinian group Hamas devastated Israeli cities on Saturday, killing at least 250 Israelis and fleeing with dozens of hostages in by far the deadliest day of violence in Israel since the Yom Kippur War a year ago. at 50 years old. More than 230 Gazans were also killed as Israel responded with one of its most devastating days of retaliation. The fighting continued into the night.
- Hamas gunmen enter Israel in unprecedented attack
- At least 480 Israelis and Palestinians dead
- Hamas claims to have taken many Israeli prisoners
- Israel says Hamas launched ‘cruel, cruel war’
- World condemns violence and US pledges support for Israel
“We will take powerful revenge for this vile day,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
“Hamas has launched a cruel and cruel war. We will win this war but the price is too heavy to bear,” he said. “Hamas wants to murder us all. It is an enemy that murders mothers and children in their homes, in their beds. An enemy that kidnaps elderly people, children, teenage girls.”
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the assault that began in Gaza, a narrow strip home to 2.3 million Palestinians, would extend to the West Bank and Jerusalem. Gaza residents have lived under Israeli blockade for 16 years.
In a speech, Haniyeh highlighted threats to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the continued blockade of Gaza and Israeli normalization with regional countries. “How many times have we warned you that the Palestinian people have been living in refugee camps for 75 years and that you refuse to recognize the rights of our people?”
Bodies of Israeli civilians were scattered in the streets of Sderot, in southern Israel, near Gaza, surrounded by broken glass. The bodies of a man and a woman were lying in the front seats of a car.
“I went out, I saw piles of corpses of terrorists, civilians, cars shot down. A sea of corpses, inside Sderot along the road, in other places, piles of bodies “said Shlomi from Sderot.
Terrified Israelis, barricaded in secure rooms, recounted their plight by telephone on live television.
Esther Borochov, who fled a dance party attacked by the gunmen, told Reuters she survived by playing dead in a car after the driver who tried to help her escape was shot dead wearing.
“I couldn’t move my legs,” she told Reuters at the hospital. “Soldiers came and took us into the bushes.”
Senior army officers were among those killed in fighting near Gaza, the Israeli military said.
Israeli troops clashed with Hamas fighters throughout the night in parts of southern Israel. During a press briefing on social media, an Israeli army spokesperson said the situation was not completely under control.
The Israeli prime minister’s office said the security cabinet had approved measures aimed at destroying the military and government capabilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad “for many years”, including cutting off electricity and fuel supplies and entry of goods into Gaza.
In Gaza, black smoke, orange flashes and sparks lit up the sky following the explosions. Israeli drones could be heard overhead. Earlier, crowds of mourners carried the militants’ bodies through the streets, wrapped in green Hamas flags.
Gaza’s dead and injured have been transported to dilapidated and overcrowded hospitals, facing severe shortages of medical supplies and equipment. The health ministry said 232 people were killed and at least 1,700 injured.
The streets were deserted except for ambulances rushing to the scene of the airstrikes. Israel cut the power, plunging the city into darkness.
Biden offers support to Netanyahu
Western countries, led by the United States, denounced the attack.
At the White House, President Joe Biden said on national television that Israel has the right to defend itself and issued a direct warning to Iran and other countries hostile to Israel. “Now is not the time for a party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks for advantage. The world is watching,” he said.
A senior Biden administration official told reporters that the United States was working with other governments to ensure the crisis does not spread and is contained in Gaza.
The United States is trying to reach a deal that would normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, seen by Israelis as the biggest reward for their decades-long quest for Arab recognition.
Palestinians fear such a deal could dash their dreams of an independent state.
Osama Hamdan, the head of Hamas in Lebanon, told Reuters that Saturday’s operation should make Arab states aware that accepting Israeli security demands would not bring peace.
“For those who want stability and peace in the region, the starting point must be to end the Israeli occupation,” he said. “Some (Arab states) have unfortunately begun to imagine that Israel could be the gateway for America to defend its security.”
Across the Middle East, demonstrations in support of Hamas took place, with Israeli and American flags set on fire and demonstrators waving Palestinian flags in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
The Hamas attack was welcomed by Iran and Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese allies.
Well after dark, residents had not received the green light to return home.
“It is not over because (the army) did not declare that the kibbutz was free of terrorists,” Dani Rahamim told Reuters by telephone from a shelter where he was hiding in Nahal Oz, near the Gaza barrier. The shooting had calmed down but regular explosions could still be heard.
Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri told Al Jazeera that the group was holding a large number of Israeli prisoners, including senior officials. He said Hamas had enough prisoners for Israel to release all the Palestinians in its prisons.
Hamas, which advocates the destruction of Israel, said the attack was motivated by what it sees as an escalation of Israel’s attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and against Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
“This is the day of the greatest battle to end the last occupation on earth,” said Hamas military commander Mohammad Deif, announcing the start of the operation in a broadcast on Hamas media and calling on Palestinians around the world to fight.
Gaza has been devastated by four wars and countless skirmishes between Hamas and Israel since the militants took control of the strip in 2007. But the scenes of violence inside Israel have surpassed anything there. was, even at the height of the Palestinian Intifada uprisings of recent decades.
That Israel was caught completely off guard was lamented as one of the worst intelligence failures in its history, a shock to a nation that prides itself on its intensive infiltration and surveillance of militants.
Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes on the Gaza-Israel border, where fighters took control of the crossing and tore down fences. Some of the dead were civilians, among the crowds trying to cross into Israel through the damaged gates.
“We are afraid,” Palestinian woman Amal Abu Daqqa told Reuters as she left her home in Khan Younis.
Rise in violence
The escalation comes amid growing violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited autonomy, which is opposed by Hamas, which wants to destroy Israel.
The West Bank has seen increased Israeli raids, Palestinian street attacks, and assaults by Jewish settlers on Palestinian villages. Living conditions for Palestinians have deteriorated under Netanyahu’s far-right government.
Peacemaking has been stalled for years.
Clashes took place on Saturday in several places in the West Bank, between young people throwing stones and confronting Israeli troops.
Four Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed. Palestinian factions have called for a general strike on Sunday.
Israel itself is experiencing internal political upheaval, with the most right-wing government in its history attempting to overhaul the justice system.