Israel declared a rare state of alert for war on the morning of October 7 after militants fired masses of rockets from the blockaded Gaza Strip and infiltrated southern parts of the country. There have been reports of civilian fatalities and casualties. Reports say at least 700 Israelis have been killed in the attack, while more than 400 Palestinians are dead in Israel’s counter-offensive operations.
Hamas, which controls Gaza and is classified as a terrorist organisation by the US, said it was the start of a major operation. The Israeli government sent warplanes to strike back within the strip.
Sirens and booms were heard across the region on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah and the Israeli military told southern residents to stay near bomb shelters. Gunfights broke out between Israeli troops and Gaza infiltrators who came in on motorcycles and para-gliders.
“Hamas has made a grave mistake this morning and launched a war against the State of Israel,” Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said. “The State of Israel will win this war.”
“We are in a state of war following a massive attack from Gaza on the south of Israel,” Israel’s police chief, Yaakov Shabtai, said in a statement, referring to the infiltrations. “There are currently 21 locations where special police forces are operating. The entire south of Israel has been sealed off.”
At least four people are dead and several more wounded from rocket hits on Kuseife about 65 kilometres (40 miles) from the Gaza Strip, according to the Bedouin town’s mayor, Abd al-Aziz Nassara. He spoke to Israel’s Kan public broadcaster.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an urgent meeting of security officials and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant approved a wide call-up of reserves.
The violence erupted a day after Hamas said that the “people had to draw a line to end the occupation” and added that Israel continued to commit crimes across Palestinian land, especially on the holy site of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.
Similar tension around the Al-Aqsa mosque started a round of confrontations earlier this year.
In a pre-recorded speech, Hamas militant leader Mohamed Deif said: “We have decided to put an end to all of this, with the help of God, so that the enemy understands that the time of recklessness without accountability is over. We declare Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and the first strike has surpassed 5,000 missiles and shells in the first 20 minutes.”
With inputs from AP, Reuters, and Bloomberg