On Saturday, October 7, 2023, Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on southern Israel, killing hundreds of civilians and soldiers in a bloody incursion. The attackers used tunnels, drones, rockets and suicide bombers to infiltrate the border fence and storm into several Israeli towns and villages. They also took more than 130 hostages, including soldiers and civilians, back to Gaza.
The attack caught Israel’s military and intelligence apparatus off guard, as it was the first time in decades that Hamas managed to penetrate deep into Israeli territory. The attack also coincided with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, when many Israelis were fasting and praying.
The attack triggered a fierce response from Israel, which declared war on Hamas and launched a massive aerial campaign against the Gaza Strip. Israel also sealed off Gaza from food, fuel and other supplies, imposing a complete siege on the impoverished enclave.
Israel vows to strike Hamas hard and prevent further incursions
In a nationally televised address on Sunday, October 8, 2023, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel had only started striking Hamas and that it would do more in the coming days. He said that Israel would not tolerate any attacks on its sovereignty and security, and that it would make Hamas pay a heavy price for its aggression.
Netanyahu also said that Israel had regained control of the south after the attack and that it had deployed tanks and drones to guard the breaches in the border fence. He said that Israel had evacuated thousands of residents from more than a dozen towns near Gaza, and that it had summoned 300,000 reservists to boost its forces.
Netanyahu did not rule out the possibility of a ground invasion into Gaza, saying that Israel would use all means necessary to restore calm and deterrence. He said that Israel would not stop until it had eliminated the threat of Hamas tunnels, rockets and drones.
Hamas threatens to execute hostages if Israel targets civilians
In response to Israel’s aerial attacks, Hamas issued a new threat on Monday, October 9, 2023. The spokesman of Hamas’ armed wing, Abu Obeida, said that the group would kill one Israeli civilian captive any time Israel targeted civilians in their homes in Gaza without prior warning.
Abu Obeida also said that Hamas had captured more than 130 Israelis during the attack, including soldiers and officers. He said that Hamas would release their names and photos soon, and that it would treat them according to Islamic law.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen warned Hamas against harming any of the hostages, saying that this would be a war crime that would not be forgiven. He also urged the international community to condemn Hamas for its brutality and terrorism.
Death toll rises to nearly 1,600 as airstrikes continue
As the war entered its third day, the death toll continued to rise on both sides. According to Israeli media reports, around 900 people have been killed in Israel since Saturday, including 73 soldiers. Most of the casualties were in the south, where Hamas gunmen wreaked havoc in several communities. Rescue workers were still finding bodies in some areas, such as Beeri, where 100 people were killed — around 10% of its population.
In Gaza, more than 680 people have been killed, according to authorities there. Israel says that hundreds of Hamas fighters are among them. Thousands have been wounded on both sides as well. Many buildings have been destroyed or damaged by Israeli airstrikes, including residential towers, government offices, media outlets and infrastructure facilities. The U.N. said that more than 123,000 people had been displaced by the fighting in Gaza.
The U.N., the U.S. and other countries have called for an immediate ceasefire and a return to negotiations. However, both sides have rejected any truce offers so far, saying that they would continue to fight until their demands were met.