The conflict between Israel and Hamas escalated to a new level on Saturday, when the Palestinian militant group launched a massive and unprecedented attack on Israeli territory, firing thousands of rockets and infiltrating the border with armed fighters. Israel responded with fierce airstrikes on Gaza, targeting Hamas hideouts and infrastructure, and warned of a possible ground invasion.
Hamas surprises Israel with coordinated assault
The attack by Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad caught Israel off guard, as it coincided with the last day of the Jewish high holidays, when many people were celebrating or resting at home. The militants fired more than 10,000 rockets from Gaza, reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and causing widespread damage and panic. Some rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, but many others hit residential areas, killing and injuring civilians.
At the same time, hundreds of Hamas fighters breached the hi-tech barriers surrounding the Gaza Strip, entering Israeli territory and engaging in gun battles with Israeli soldiers and civilians. The militants also attempted to enter Israel by sea, using boats and jet skis, but were repelled by the Israeli navy. The militants took between 100 and 150 hostages, mostly Israelis, and held them in Gaza, according to an Israeli official.
The offensive by Hamas was a stunning display of its military capabilities and a huge failure of Israeli intelligence, which had underestimated the threat posed by the group. The attack was also seen as a challenge to the authority of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs parts of the West Bank and has been engaged in peace talks with Israel.
Israel vows to crush Hamas with ‘unprecedented force’
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel was at war and that Hamas would pay a heavy price for its aggression. He said he had “released all restraints” on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), which launched a wave of airstrikes on Gaza, hitting hundreds of targets and reducing neighborhoods to rubble.
The IDF said it targeted Hamas headquarters, weapons factories, tunnels, rocket launchers, and other military assets. It also struck several high-rise buildings in Gaza City, including Palestine Tower, an 11-story building that housed Hamas radio stations. The IDF said it warned civilians to evacuate before striking the buildings, but many people were still trapped under the rubble.
Netanyahu also hinted at a possible ground invasion of Gaza, saying that Israel was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to restore security and deter future attacks. However, such a move would carry huge risks for both sides, as IDF troops would face fierce resistance from Hamas fighters and booby-trapped buildings, while Israeli hostages would be in danger of being killed or used as human shields.
International community calls for ceasefire and humanitarian aid
The international community expressed alarm and concern over the escalating violence and urged both sides to cease hostilities and respect international humanitarian law. US President Joe Biden described the attack by Hamas as an “act of sheer evil” and confirmed that 14 Americans were among the dead in Israel. He also said he was sending Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region to help broker a ceasefire and coordinate humanitarian assistance.
Other countries also offered their condolences and support to the victims and called for an end to the bloodshed. France banned pro-Palestinian protests in Paris to “protect Jews” from potential violence, while Germany condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas as “terrorist acts”. The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the crisis and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
Meanwhile, humanitarian agencies warned of a dire situation in Gaza, where electricity and fuel supplies were cut off by Israel, affecting medical facilities that were already overwhelmed by the wounded. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said it was running low on food, water, and medicine for the 1.4 million refugees it serves in Gaza. It also said that more than 50 schools had been damaged by Israeli airstrikes.