Militants of the Islamist group crossed into Israel by land, sea and air on a major Jewish holiday, firing at least 2,200 rockets into the country by late morning, according to the Israeli military. Israel retaliated with massive airstrikes on Gazan cities.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said operations were underway to clear the militants from infiltrated towns and that he had issued a call-up of reservists. “We are at war. Not an ‘operation’, not a ’round’, but at war… The enemy will pay an unprecedented price,” he said, promising that Israel would “return fire of a magnitude that the enemy has not known”.
The timing of the assault was striking. It came 50 years and a day after the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when too Israel was surprised by a complex attack by Egypt and Syria to take back Israeli-occupied territories, leading to huge Israeli losses and soul-searching about the state of the country. That the attack came as a surprise makes it one of the worst intelligence failures in the history of a country proud of its intensive infiltration and monitoring of militant groups.
By early evening, the Israeli military said fighting continued in at least five places in southern Israel. Quoting Israeli media, Reuters said at least 200 Israelis had been killed. The Gazan health ministry said at least 198 Palestinians were killed in either gun battles or airstrikes. Army spokesman Daniel Hagari said militants were holding hostages in standoffs in two towns, Beeri and Ofakim, which is 24km from the Gaza border.
The shadowy leader of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Deif, said the assault was in response to the 16-year blockade of Gaza by Israel and neighbouring Egypt, Israeli raids inside West Bank cities over the past year, violence at Al Aqsa – the disputed Jerusalem holy site sacred to Jews as the Temple Mount – increasing attacks by settlers on Palestinians and growth of settlements.
Israel declares ‘state of war’ after rockets fired from Gaza; Israel initiates ‘Operation Iron Swords’ in Gaza