Israel declare war against Hamas
Israel formally declared war on Hamas on Sunday, setting the stage for a major military operation in Gaza as fighting rages on Israeli soil following Saturday’s surprise assault by the Islamist militant group in which hundreds of Israelis were killed.
The shock terror attack led to the deadliest day in decades for Israel and came after months of surging violence between Palestinians and Israelis, with the long-running conflict now heading into uncharted and dangerous new territory. Questions are also swirling over how the Israeli military and intelligence apparatus appeared to be caught off guard in one of the country’s worst security failures.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed retaliation, warning his country would take “mighty vengeance” and was readying for “a long and difficult war” ahead. He urged Palestinians living in Gaza to “leave now.”
Throughout Saturday and into Sunday, Hamas launched thousands of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel – making direct hits on multiple locations inside the country including Tel Aviv – while armed terror groups entered Israel and infiltrated military bases, towns and farms, shooting at civilians and taking hostages.
The number of dead in Israel following the attack by Hamas on Saturday is likely to be over 500, CNN analysis suggests. More than 2,000 have been injured, according to the Israeli heath ministry.
Israel has responded by launching air strikes on what it said were Hamas targets in Gaza, while its forces clashed on the ground with Hamas fighters in villages, army bases and border crossings. Netanyahu said that the military was “clearing terrorists” out of Israeli communities and “restoring control.”
Israeli warplanes continued to pound Gaza on Sunday morning with the Israel Defense Forces saying it had struck 426 targets in Gaza, including 10 towers used by Hamas. Israel said that drones were used overnight Saturday to strike “a number of terrorist squads in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip.”
In Gaza, at least 370 Palestinians have died and another 2,200 have been wounded in the airstrikes, the Palestinian health ministry said. The toll included 20 dead and 121 wounded children, the ministry added.
The Israeli leader said the “first phase” of the operation had ended with the “destruction of the majority of the enemy forces that penetrated our territory.”
Netanyahu announced Israeli forces have started an “offensive formation” which will continue “until the objectives are achieved.” Among the decisions made by the cabinet is to stop the supply of electricity, fuel and goods to Gaza.
Complicating Israel’s response is that “significant number” of Israeli nationals were taken by Hamas as hostages and are being held at locations across Gaza.
“People have been kidnapped into Gaza, not only soldiers but civilians, children, grandmothers,” said Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht told a briefing on Sunday. “We have lost soldiers, we have lost commanders, we have lost a lot of civilians.”
It has been more than 17 years since an Israeli soldier was taken as a prisoner of war in an assault on Israeli territory. And Israel has not seen this kind of infiltration of military bases, towns and kibbutzim since town-by-town fighting in the 1948 war of independence.
Palestinian militant group Hamas said the captured Israeli hostages are being held across Gaza and warned against attacks in the area.
“Threatening Gaza and its people is a losing game and a broken record,” said Abu Obaida spokesman for the Al Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas in a recorded audio message late Saturday. “What happens to the people of the Gaza Strip will happen to them and beware of miscalculation.”
Earlier the group claimed to have captured “dozens” of Israelis, including soldiers, and were holding them in “safe places and resistance tunnels.”
On Sunday, Hecht said the IDF had neutralized most of the significant battles that took place in the settlement of Otef, but there are still ongoing operations in numerous other parts of the country. The IDF’s goal for the next 12 hours is to “end the Gaza enclave … and kill all the terrorists in our territory,” he said.
“We are probably going to try to evict certain communities in areas of Gaza,” he added.
The IDF is evacuating more than 20 communities adjacent to the Gaza security fence, and searching the area for any Hamas militants left. It is also seeking to control breaches in the fence.
Asked by a journalist about the intelligence failure that had allowed such a large scale attack to occur, Hecht said: “This is not a question for now … I am sure that will be a big discussion down the road.”