A Palestinian Islamist group, Hamas, launched an attack on Israel on Saturday with a barrage of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, killing at least 22 people, with hundreds of persons sustaining injuries.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in response however vowed a retaliation even as Israel says the Iran-backed group had declared war as its army confirmed fighting with militants in several Israeli towns and military bases near Gaza.
“Our enemy will pay a price the type of which it has never known,” Netanyahu said. “We are in a war and we will win it.”
The Israeli military said it had launched air strikes into Gaza, where witnesses reported hearing heavy explosions, with at least two dead.
According to report, the attack marked an unprecedented infiltration by an unknown number of Hamas gunmen into Israel from Gaza, and one of the most serious escalations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in years.
Israeli broadcaster Reshet 13 TV News said militants were holding Israelis hostage in the town of Ofakim, and that five Palestinian militants had been killed in the town of Sderot and homes had been set on fire.
Israeli media reported gunbattles between bands of Palestinian fighters and security forces in towns in southern Israel. Israel’s police chief said there were “21 active scenes” in southern Israel, indicating the extent of the attack.
In Gaza, people rushed to buy supplies in anticipation of days of conflict ahead, while some evacuated their homes and headed for shelters.
Hamas military commander Mohammad Deif announced the start of the operation in a broadcast on Hamas media, calling on Palestinians everywhere to fight.
“This is the day of the greatest battle to end the last occupation on earth,” he said, adding that 5,000 rockets had been launched.
The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah said the operation was a “decisive response to Israel’s continued occupation and a message to those seeking normalisation with Israel”.
The last major flare-up between Israel and Hamas was a 10-day war in 2021.
Israeli Defence Minister Gallant said “troops are fighting against the enemy at every location” and authorised the call-up of reservists.
The Israeli military said it has begun striking targets in the Gaza strip in response “to the barrages of rockets”
Israeli media reported that gunmen had opened fire on passers-by in Sderot, and footage circulating on social media appeared to show clashes in city streets as well as gunmen in jeeps roaming the countryside.
“We were told there are terrorists inside the kibbutz, we can hear gunfire,” a young woman named Dvir, from Beeri Kibbutz, told Israeli Army Radio from her bomb shelter.