Fighters killed dozens of Israelis and abducted some of them in an unprecedented surprise attack during a major Jewish holiday on Saturday.A stunned Israel said it is now at war with Hamas and launched airstrikes in Gaza, vowing to inflict an “unprecedented price.”
In an assault of startling breadth, Hamas gunmen rolled into as many as 22 locations outside the Gaza Strip, including towns and other communities as far as 24 kilometres from the Gaza border. In some places, they roamed for hours, gunning down civilians and soldiers as Israel’s military scrambled to muster a response. Gunbattles continued well after nightfall, and militants held hostages in standoffs in two towns.
Israel’s national rescue service said at least 200 people were killed and 1,100 wounded, making it the deadliest attack in Israel in decades. At least 198 people in the Gaza Strip have been killed and at least 1,610 wounded in Israeli strikes, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. Hamas fighters took an unknown number of civilians and soldiers captive into Gaza.
One video posted online appeared to show Hamas fighters in a pick-up truck in the southern Israeli city of Sderot.In a televised address on Saturday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who earlier declared Israel at war, said the military will use all of its strength to destroy Hamas’ capabilities but the war will “take time.”
“We will defeat them … and take revenge for this black day,” he said.After nightfall, Israeli airstrikes in Gaza intensified, flattening several residential buildings in giant explosions, including a 14-story tower that held dozens of apartments as well as Hamas offices in central Gaza City. Israeli forces fired a warning just before, and there were no reports of casualties.
Soon after, a Hamas rocket barrage into central Israel hit four cities, including Tel Aviv and a nearby suburb, where two people were seriously injured. Throughout the day, Hamas fired more than 3,500 rockets, the Israeli military said.The strength, sophistication and timing of the Saturday morning attack shocked Israelis. Hamas fighters used explosives to break through the border fence enclosing the Mediterranean territory, then crossed with motorcycles, pickup trucks, paragliders and speed boats on the coast.
In some towns, a trail of civilians’ bodies lay where they had encountered the advancing gunmen. On the road outside the town of Sderot, a bloodied woman slumped dead in the seat of her car. At least nine people gunned down at a bus shelter in the town were laid out on stretchers on the street, their bags still on the curb nearby.