Israel Engages in Fierce Battles with Hamas; Tensions Rise with Lebanon’s Hezbollah

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Carey Fruitman spent Saturday morning in and out of the bomb shelter in his home in Rishon LeZion, Israel, following Hamas's surprise attack. Fruitman, who has lived in Israel for the past 30 years, says rocket strikes are nothing new but Saturday's attacks are unprecedented.

Israeli soldiers engaged in intense clashes with Hamas fighters for the second consecutive day following a surprise incursion from the Gaza Strip. The violence has expanded to Israel’s northern frontier, with a brief exchange of fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, stoking concerns of a larger regional conflict.

Israelis inspect the rubble of a building in Tel Aviv a day after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip. (Oded Balilty/The Associated Press)

Surprise Attack Shocks Israel

In an unexpected move, Hamas militants used explosives to breach Israel’s security barrier, embarking on a rampage through nearby communities. The militants took numerous captives, including women, children, and the elderly, back to Gaza. It is anticipated that Hamas may attempt to negotiate these captives in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesperson, expressed the nation’s shock: “Israel is waking up this morning to a terrible morning. There are a lot of people killed … children, grandmothers, families, bodies.”

Palestinians transport a captured Israeli civilian, center, from Kibbutz Kfar Azza into the Gaza Strip on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Casualties and Captives

Both sides have suffered significant casualties. Israeli media report that at least 600 people, including 44 soldiers, have been killed, while in the Gaza Strip, at least 313 individuals, including 20 children, have perished, as reported by the Palestinian Health Ministry. Many were also wounded, with Gaza’s tally nearing 2,000.

The scale of deaths, combined with the capture of multiple individuals and the delay in Israel’s response, suggests a potential intelligence oversight.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military official, confirmed fighting continued, especially in the south. “We will go through every community until we kill every terrorist that is in Israeli territory,” he emphasized.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement on October 7, 2023 in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Screen grab)

Netanyahu’s Firm Stance

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the nation was “at war.” In a stern address, he vowed, “All the places that Hamas hides in, operates from, we will turn them into ruins.” He added that the war would be prolonged and challenging, signaling the possibility of a ground assault into Gaza – a move that has historically escalated casualties.

In the meantime, Israel has retaliated by targeting 426 sites in Gaza, including a 14-story building housing Hamas offices.

People stand outside a mosque destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis, Gaza on Sunday, a day after Hamas militants broke out of the blockaded Gaza Strip and rampaged through nearby Israeli communities. (Yousef Masoud/The Associated Press)

Gaza in Darkness

Residents of Gaza, already grappling with a border blockade since 2007, faced additional hardships as Israel cut off electricity and essential supplies. Thousands fled deeper into the territory, seeking refuge in UN schools. UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinians, reported over 20,000 individuals have moved to safer locations.

Palestinians are seen on Sunday searching through the rubble of a house destroyed in Israeli strikes in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

Hezbollah Joins the Fray

As the battles raged in the south, Israel’s northern borders flared up with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, an organization backed by Iran. Hezbollah launched numerous rockets at Israeli positions along a disputed border area. Israel retaliated with armed drone strikes.

Israeli soldiers head south near Ashkelon, Israel, Israel, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Regional Implications

The implications of the conflict are extending beyond Israel’s borders. In a disturbing incident in Egypt, an Egyptian police officer shot two Israeli tourists in Alexandria. Though Egypt has maintained peace with Israel for years, anti-Israel sentiments are pervasive and can intensify during heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions.