Palestinian militants began a “war” against Israel where they attacked by air, sea and land from the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials said.
This is a major escalation in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “we are at war” and promised severe retaliation after he ordered the large-scale mobilization of Israeli army reserves. “The enemy will pay an unprecedented price.”
Violence between Israel and the Palestinians began to increase since early last year, with a number of deaths in the occupied West Bank not seen in years.
“We have decided to put an end to all the crimes of the occupation (Israel),” said the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigade, the armed wing of Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip. “Their time for devastation without accountability is over. We announce Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and we fired, in the first 20-minute attack, more than 5,000 rockets.”
Israel’s military said its forces were fighting Palestinian militants on the ground in several locations near the strip. The operation was dubbed “Iron Swords”.
Army spokesman Richard Hecht said the militants carried out a combined raid – by means of paratroopers, by sea and over land.
At least 22 people have already been shot dead in Israel, the Magen David Adom emergency services said in a statement. They have already treated hundreds of victims.
Meanwhile, Hamas has shared a video of three men being held hostage by its fighters.
Josep Borrell, head of foreign policy at the European Union, condemned the decision by Hamas to hold citizens hostage. According to Borrell, this is a violation of international law.
“The news that civilians are being held hostage is terrible. This is against international law. The persons must be released immediately,” he said on X (Twitter).
A militant invasion of Gaza, an impoverished enclave with around 2.3 million inhabitants, has been rare since Hamas took control in 2007. This led to Israel’s crippling blockade. Gaza is cut off from Israel by a military border.
At least six vehicles were parked next to residential buildings in Ashkelon, about 10 km north of Gaza, burning after the rocket attack from Gaza.
The attack took place on the Sabbath and during a Jewish holiday.
Netanyahu said in a statement that Hamas “launched a murderous surprise attack against Israel and its people”.
Maj. Gen. Ghasan Alyan of Israel warned that Hamas had “opened the gates of hell” and “will pay for their actions”.
AFP reporters said Israel’s military began airstrikes on Gaza after the rocket attack from the area.
“Dozens of fighter jets from the Israeli army are currently attacking a number of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip,” the army said.
AFP reporters in Gaza said the rockets were fired at around 06:30 (0330 GMT).
Hundreds of Gazites flee
The Israeli police have meanwhile set up roadblocks to check motorists on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, an AFP journalist said.
Hundreds of residents fled their homes in Gaza to get away from the border with Israel, mainly in the northeastern part of the territory, an AFP correspondent said. The men, women and children fled with blankets and food.
In the commercial center of Tel Aviv, residents boarded a bus to seek shelter in a hotel.
An AFP photographer saw a large hole in a building with residents gathering outside.
Some Palestinian residents in east Jerusalem cheered and honked their car horns as the sirens blared.