Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says: “We are at war and we will win,” as Israel responds to Hamas’s surprise attack – its biggest in years – by striking targets in Gaza.
At least 22 people have been killed and hundreds more wounded after thousands of rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in a surprise attack by the Hamas militant group.
Large plumes of black smoke could be seen rising from a number of Israeli towns on Saturday morning.
Israel’s defence minister said Hamas had “launched a war” and its troops were “fighting against the enemy at every location”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement: “We are at war and we will win.”
Mr Netanyahu added: “Our enemy will pay a price the type of which it has never known.”
Netanyahu: ‘We are at war’
Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves against the “terror of settlers and occupation of troops”.
Phone footage also showed Hamas fighters attempting to reach Israel on small boats, and in a highly unusual development, a number of fighters appeared to have crossed the border using paragliders, reaching the town of Sderot where gun battles were heard.
Footage from security cameras showed them entering the city in pick-up trucks and motorbikes.
Air raid sirens sounded across southern and central Israel, and there were explosions in the cities of Tel Aviv, Ashkelon, Yavne and Kfar Aviv.
A rescue agency said a 70-year-old woman had been critically injured when a rocket hit a building in southern Israel.
Israel said it was attacking targets in the Gaza Strip and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) warned “the Hamas terror group will pay a very heavy price”.
The Israeli military said “a number of terrorists have infiltrated into Israeli territory” and residents along the border were told to stay indoors.
“The military declares a state of war alert,” it said in a statement.
Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant said Hamas had “made a grave mistake this morning and launched a war against the State of Israel”.
He added: “IDF troops are fighting against the enemy at every location. I call on all of Israel’s citizens to follow security instructions. The State of Israel will win this war.”
Several reports have suggested that Hamas kidnapped IDF soldiers with videos circulating on social media appearing to show the captive military troops being paraded on trucks. An IDF spokesman refused to comment on the claims when asked about them.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is understood to have convened an emergency meeting of his security cabinet.
Fires in the Israeli city of Ashkelon
07 October 2023, Israel, Ashkelon: Members of the fire brigade try to extinguish fire on cars following a rocket attack from Gaza. Palestinian militants in Gaza unexpectedly fired dozens of rockets at Israeli targets early on Saturday, the Israeli army said.
A military spokesperson for Israel said Hamas fired 2,500 rockets in Saturday’s attack, while the group’s military commander Mohammad Deif said 5,000 rockets had been launched.
“This is the day of the greatest battle to end the last occupation on earth,” Mr Deif said on Hamas radio.
He said the attack was the beginning of “Operation Al Aqsa Storm” and was in response to Israeli violence in the West Bank, Gaza, and around Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.
“Today the people are regaining their revolution,” he said in the recorded message.
“We must set the earth on fire under the feet of the occupiers,” the militant added.
Palestinians celebrate by a destroyed Israeli tank at the Gaza Strip fence east of Khan Younis southern Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. The militant Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip carried out an unprecedented, multi-front attack on Israel at daybreak Saturday, firing thousands of rockets as dozens of Hamas fighters infiltrated the heavily fortified border in several locations by air, land, and sea and catching the country off-guard on a major holiday.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group said it had joined the attack, while Hamas also called on armed groups in Lebanon to get involved.
Governments around the world have condemned the attacks on Israel including France, Germany and Italy.
British PM Rishi Sunak said: “I am shocked by this morning’s attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli citizens. Israel has an absolute right to defend itself. We’re in contact with Israeli authorities, and British nationals in Israel should follow travel advice.”
The UK’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “The UK unequivocally condemns the horrific attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians. The UK will always support Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer “utterly condemn[ed]” the attacks as “an act of terror”.
Sir Keir said: “There is no justification for this act of terror which is being perpetrated by those who seek to undermine any chance for future peace in the region.”
Head of the EU commission Ursula von der Leyen said the attack was “terrorism in its most despicable form” and that “Israel has the right to defend itself against such heinous attacks”.
Meanwhile, Iran has expressed support for the Palestinian assault, one of its local news agencies ISNA reported.
“We congratulate the Palestinian fighters,” it quoted Iranian military commander Rahim Safavi, who added: “We will stand by the Palestinian fighters until the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem.”
The attacks come after weeks of heightened tensions along Israel’s volatile border with Gaza, and heavy fighting in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.