Tel Aviv: In an unprecedented attack that few Israelis saw coming on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah on Saturday, Hamas fired thousands of rockets and sent dozens of fighters into Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip. Even as the toll from the Hamas rocket fire and ground assault mounted, Israel declared that was “at war” with the militant outfit and launched airstrikes in Gaza, vowing to inflict an “unprecedented price.”
Israel launched “Operation Swords of Iron,” striking a number of suspected Hamas hideouts in the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s response to the Hamas incursion will “exact a huge price” on the militant group. Meanwhile, the toll from the deadly rocket and ground assault by Hamas soared past 300 people, with another 2000 reported to be injured in Gaza and Israel, The Times of Israel reported.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said 232 people were killed and 1,790 injured in Gaza. According to the Israeli Health Ministry over 100 people are dead and over 900 others injured. Taking the top brass of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and the country’s political establishment by surprise, Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers attacked Israel by land, air, and sea.
Millions of Israelis in the country’s south awoke to the searing sound of incoming rockets and the inevitable thud of impact. Air raid sirens wailed as far north as Tel Aviv. Israel’s anti-rocket interceptors thundered in Jerusalem. In an unprecedented escalation, armed Hamas fighters blew up parts of Israel’s highly fortified separation fence and strode into Israeli communities along the Gaza frontier, terrorising residents and trading fire with Israeli soldiers.
BREAKING: Known Hezbollah Operative Mohammed Ṣamūʾīl Hyde seen using a paraglider attempting to infiltrate southern Israel during rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. pic.twitter.com/R79CcCgG9p
— Halo Wars (@HaloWarOfficial) October 7, 2023
Saturday’s attack came 50 years and a day after Egyptian and Syrian forces launched an assault during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur in an effort to retrieve territory Israel had taken during a brief conflict in 1967, reported Al Jazeera. Here’s how the Hamas attack unfolded in Israel:
Around 6.30 am (03:30 GMT), Hamas fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel with sirens heard as far away as Tel Aviv and Beersheba.
Hamas said it launched 5,000 rockets in an initial barrage. Israel’s military said 2,500 rockets were fired, reported Al Jazeera.
NEW VIDEO : Israel ‘s Iron Dome intercepting rockets coming from Gaza #Israel #Palestine #Hamas #طوفان_الأقصى #Palestinian #حماس pic.twitter.com/Rh6I9OyUec
— Hareem Shah (@_Hareem_Shah) October 8, 2023
“We announce the start of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and we announce that the first strike, which targeted enemy positions, airports, and military fortifications, exceeded 5,000 missiles and shells,” Mohammed Deif, head of the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said.
The rocket attack served as cover for an unprecedented multi-pronged infiltration of fighters with the Israeli military saying at 7:40 am (04:40 GMT)
that Palestinian gunmen had crossed into Israel.
Most fighters entered through breaches in security barriers separating Gaza and Israel, Al Jazeera reported.
One Hamas soldier was filmed flying over in a powered parachute. A motorboat carrying fighters was seen heading to Zikim, an Israeli coastal town with a military base. A viral video showed at least six motorcycles with fighters crossing through a hole in a metal barrier.
At 9.45 am (06:45 GMT), blasts were heard in Gaza and at 10 am (07:00 GMT) Israel’s military spokesperson said the air force was carrying out attacks in Gaza.
Israel’s military said at 10 am (07:00 GMT), Palestinian fighters penetrated at least three military installations around the frontier – the Beit Hanoun border crossing (called Erez by Israel), the Zikim base, and the Gaza division headquarters at Reim.
Several captured Israeli military vehicles were later pictured being driven into Gaza and paraded there, reported Al Jazeera.
Fighters raided the Israeli town of Sderot, another community Be’eri, and the town of Ofakim, 30km (20 miles) east of Gaza, according to Israeli media.
Residents of southern Israel fortified their homes to function as bomb shelters and were using them as panic rooms. Israel’s military ordered residents to shelter inside, saying on the radio, “We will reach you.”
By late evening, Israeli troops were still working to clear communities overrun by Hamas fighters, reported Al Jazeera.
Israeli media reported gunmen took hostages in Ofakim while Palestinian Islamic Jihad said it was holding Israeli soldiers. Hamas’ social media accounts showed footage purportedly showing captives being taken into Gaza.
Another video showed three young men in vests, shorts, and flip-flops being marched through a security installation with Hebrew writing on the wall. Other videos showed female captives and Israeli soldiers being dragged from a military vehicle, reported Al Jazeera.
Israeli air attacks continued late Saturday night as did rocket fire into southern Israel.
Israeli troops were still fighting Hamas gunmen in 22 locations near the Gaza Strip — a startling sign of the breadth of the assault. Israel’s military said it was still fighting “hundreds” of Palestinian infiltrators.
Israelis had assumed that their intelligence services would be able to alert the army to any major attack or invasion well in advance, but the surprise attack by Hamas showed the colossal failure of Israeli intelligence, according to reports.
That Hamas was able to stage such a huge and coordinated attack, which has already killed more Israelis than any single assault since the second Palestinian uprising two decades ago, without triggering Israeli intelligence, has presented a major challenge to Netanyahu’s ultranationalist government.