Militants infiltrated areas of southern Israel as rocket barrages launched from the Gaza Strip struck the region on Saturday in an attack the Islamist movement Hamas is taking responsibility for.
A senior Hamas military commander, Mohammad Deif, announced the start of the operation in which he called on Palestinians everywhere to attack the Israelis.
“This is the day of the greatest battle end the last occupation on earth,” he said in a broadcast on Hamas media, saying that 5,000 rockets had been launched.
An Israeli woman was killed in the operation, according to emergency services. Ambulance crews responded to areas around the Gaza Strip, and sirens sounded across Israel. Soroka medical center in Beer Sheva, the largest town in southern Israel, treated 80 wounded people, including some in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds.
According to Israeli media, gunmen opened fire on passersby in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, and footage of the fighting appeared to show attacks in city streets.
“A number of terrorists have infiltrated into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip,” the Israeli military said in a statement.
Residents in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip are urged to remain in their homes.
“The Israeli Defence Forces will defend Israeli civilians and the Hamas terrorist organization will pay heavy price for its actions,” the military said.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he would meet top security officials in the coming hours to address the operation.
The sound of rocket launches could be heard in Gaza as residents reported armed clashes along the separation fence with Israel, near the southern town of Khan Younis. The residents said they had seen significant movement of armed fighters.
In accordance with assessments by Israel’s defense establishment, Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant has announced a “special security situation” in Israel’s homefront, within a 0-80 km radius from the Gaza Strip that enables the IDF to provide civilians with safety instructions and close relevant sites.
There has been fighting between Israel and Gaza in years past, and the fighting that started on Saturday is expected to last several days.
Fox News’ Trey Yingst and Yonat Friling and Reuters contributed to this report.