Israel launches retaliatory airstrikes after surprise raid during Jewish holiday.
In a surprise assault that has stunned Israel, Hamas militants fired thousands of rockets and sent fighters into Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip early Saturday during the major Jewish holiday, Simchat Torah. The incursion, unprecedented in its scope, has left hundreds dead and has significantly escalated tensions in the region.
A Bold Incursion
Hamas militants, using sophisticated tactics, managed to break through the border fence enclosing the Gaza Strip. Employing a range of vehicles, including motorcycles, pickup trucks, paragliders, and speed boats, they launched their surprise attack, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake. Israeli towns near the border were thrust into chaos, with numerous civilian casualties reported.
“The strength, sophistication and timing of the attack shocked Israelis,” commented an Israeli official.
Associated Press photos captured distressing scenes, including an elderly Israeli woman abducted by gunmen and paraded into Gaza on a golf cart. Other images displayed fighters parading what appeared to be captured Israeli military vehicles through the streets of Gaza.
Heavy Casualties on Both Sides
The Israeli national rescue service reports that the attack is the deadliest in years, with at least 70 Israelis dead and hundreds more wounded. The Israeli military has been caught off-guard, with militants holding hostages in standoffs in multiple towns, including Beeri and Ofakim.
Meanwhile, in retaliation, Israel has launched severe airstrikes on Gaza, leading to at least 198 Palestinian deaths and wounding over 1,600, as per the Palestinian Health Ministry. As evening approached, Israeli airstrikes intensified, targeting major buildings, including a 14-story residential tower in Gaza City.
Calls for War
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a televised address, declared a state of war against Hamas.
“We are at war,” Netanyahu emphasized. “Not an ‘operation,’ not a ’round,’ but at war.”
He went on to promise a powerful retaliation against Hamas, vowing to “return fire of a magnitude that the enemy has not known.”
Mohammed Deif, the leader of Hamas’ military wing, indicated that the attack was in response to various provocations, including the 16-year blockade of Gaza and the growth of Israeli settlements.
“Enough is enough,” Deif said in a recorded message, urging Palestinians from east Jerusalem to northern Israel to join the fight.
U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the attack on Israel and asserted Israel’s right to defend itself, while Saudi Arabia called for restraint from both sides. Hezbollah in Lebanon lauded Hamas’s actions, marking a further complication in regional dynamics.
A Region in Turmoil
This recent escalation occurs against a backdrop of deep-seated tensions and division. Israel’s proposal to overhaul the judiciary has ignited significant internal strife. Moreover, the stagnant peace process, mounting tensions in the West Bank, and a continued blockade on Gaza since 2007 further intensify the situation.
The international community now watches with bated breath as the events unfold, hoping for a resolution that will prevent further bloodshed.