Hamas said it had taken “dozens” of Israeli soldiers hostage and moved them to the Gaza Strip as footage emerged appearing to show gunmen in military fatigues leading a group of mostly barefoot women down a street in Israel.
The announcement and video verified by NBC News came hours after Hamas launched a deadly land, air and sea attack and fired a huge barrage of rockets at Israel.
The military captives were being held in “safe places and resistance tunnels,” said Abu Ubaida, a spokesperson for Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades. Video also showed what appeared to be armed militants with rifles driving a pickup carrying several bloodied and bound-up men lying in the back.
In a Saturday afternoon address, President Joe Biden said “entire families” were among those taken hostage by Hamas.
A spokesperson for the Israeli military confirmed to NBC News that “Hamas took hostages and captives,” but he did not say whether they were soldiers.
The spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, added that there were “hostage situations” in the southern city of Ofakim and a nearby kibbutz called Beeri, where the video of the barefoot women appeared to have been filmed. “There are special forces there with senior commanders and live fire fights are going on there,” he said.
He did not say whether the hostages were civilians or military personnel.
Hagari said the military was “fighting in 22 locations,” adding there was “no community in southern Israel where we do not have forces, in all the towns.”
He added that soldiers had died in the conflict.
“We don’t have an exact number yet, we are at war,” Hagari said.
Gaza militants have rarely succeeded in taking Israeli soldiers hostage. In 2006, Hamas fighters seized Gilad Shalit and held him for five years. He was ultimately exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
A spokesperson for the Israeli rescue service, Magen David Adom, said in an earlier statement that at least 150 people in Israel had been killed. Graphic but unverified video and photos shared on social media suggested that the toll could rise sharply.