Israeli jets launched a massive counter airstrikes against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip following yesterday’s terror attacks on the country, which left 300 Israelis dead.
The attacks are reported to be the deadliest in Israel in 50 years.
Smoke could be seen rising from Gaza’s Burc Vatan shopping mall after the Palestine Tower in the Al-Rimal neighborhood was reduced to rubble.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced it is carrying out artillery strikes in Lebanon in the disputed area of Mount Dov following mortar fire from there directed toward Israeli territory.
Iran-backed Hezbollah militants said it was behind the strikes and the attack was carried out ‘in solidarity with the Palestinian resistance,’ reported the BBC.
Columns of heavy weaponry, including tanks and armored personnel carriers, were also spotted moving north toward Israel’s border with Lebanon and Syria.
‘We are embarking on a long and difficult war that was forced on us by a murderous Hamas attack,’ Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said early Sunday, adding that the ‘offensive phase’ of the IDF response has begun.
Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom Tzipi Hotovely has blamed Iran for supporting Hamas ahead of Saturday’s attack.
She told Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips on Sky News: ‘Iran is backing up Hamas, Iran is destabilizing the region with its proxies.
‘We are willing to take a long fighting time to defend our people, we must make sure no one has a motivation to do that again.’
More than 300 Israelis have been killed and 1,590 injured since Hamas launched its blitz attack on Saturday morning with rockets and up to 1,000 armed militants roving in gangs, attacking civilians and soldiers alike across dozens of locations.
At least 26 Israeli soldiers have been killed in an attack by the Hamas militant group on the country´s south, Israel’s military confirmed.
On Sunday morning, Israel was still fighting Hamas incursions in eight places, the Israeli military said.
While a compound belonging to Hamas’ head of the intelligence department has been struck by Israeli Air Force’s fighter jets.
‘Israel is waking up this morning to a terrible morning,’ said Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesman. ‘There are a lot of people killed… children, grandmothers, families, bodies.’
In other developments on Israel’s darkest day for decades:
Hamas fighters began their attack at dawn on Saturday with a huge barrage of rockets into southern Israel, giving cover to an unprecedented, multi-pronged infiltration of fighters into Israel from Gaza.
Hamas fighters killed hundreds of Israelis in clashes through the day, and escaped back into Gaza with at least dozens of hostages, including women, children, and disabled elderly Israelis.
An Israeli military spokesperson said Sunday morning that two hostage situations had been ‘resolved’ but did not say whether those hostages had been rescued alive.
An official number of how many people have been kidnapped is currently not known, but the Israeli Embassy to the United States suggests a figure of 100 civilians and soldiers.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described the attack by Hamas as ‘cowardly and depraved.
In a post on X, he said: ‘As the barbarity of today’s atrocities becomes clearer, we stand unequivocally with Israel.’
US President Joe Biden ‘unequivocally condemns this appalling assault against Israel by Hamas terrorists from Gaza’, and said ‘we stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the Government and people of Israel’.
‘Terrorism is never justified. Israel has a right to defend itself and its people,’ he said.
Israeli airstrikes in Gaza had intensified after nightfall, flattening residential buildings in giant explosions, including a 14-story tower that held dozens of apartments as well as Hamas offices in central Gaza City. Israeli forces issued a warning just before.
Around 3 a.m., a loudspeaker atop a mosque in Gaza City blared a stark warning to residents of nearby apartment buildings: Evacuate immediately. Just minutes later, an Israeli airstrike reduced one nearby five-story building to ashes.
After one Israeli strike, a Hamas rocket barrage hit four cities, including Tel Aviv and a nearby suburb. Throughout the day, Hamas fired more than 3,500 rockets, the Israeli military said.
Israeli officials said that operations to eliminate the armed invaders were winding down early on Sunday.
‘The first stage is ending at this time by the destruction of the vast majority of the enemy forces that infiltrated our territory, said Netanyahu following an early morning Security Cabinet meeting.
‘At the same time, we have begun the offensive phase, which will continue with neither limitations nor respite until the objectives are achieved. We will restore security to the citizens of Israel, and we will win,’ he added.
The PM’s office said the Security Cabinet had decided to halt the supply of electricity, fuel and goods to Gaza, a narrow strip that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians. Gazans have lived under an Israeli blockade for 16 years.
Netanyahu’s office said his security cabinet had approved steps to destroy the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group, ‘for years’.
Israeli troops battled Hamas gunmen through the night in parts of southern Israel. An Israeli army spokesperson said on social media the situation was not fully under control.
Bodies of Israeli civilians surrounded by broken glass were strewn across the streets of Sderot in southern Israel near Gaza. The bodies of a man and woman were sprawled across the front seats of a car.
Terrified Israelis, barricaded into safe rooms, recounted their plight by phone on live television.
Senior military officers were among those killed in fighting near Gaza, the Israeli military said.
In Gaza, black smoke, orange flashes and sparks lit the sky from explosions. Israeli drones could be heard overhead.
Gaza’s dead and wounded were carried into crumbling and overcrowded hospitals with severe shortages of medical supplies and equipment. The health ministry said 232 people had been killed and at least 1,700 wounded.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh claimed the assault, which the group dubbed Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, would spread to the West Bank and Jerusalem.
In a speech, Haniyeh highlighted threats to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the continuation of an Israeli blockade on Gaza, and Israeli normalization with countries in the region.
‘How many times have we warned you that the Palestinian people have been living in refugee camps for 75 years, and you refuse to recognize the rights of our people?’
At the White House, President Joe Biden went on national television to say Israel had the right to defend itself, issuing a blunt warning to Iran and other countries: ‘This is not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks to seek advantage. The world is watching.’
The United States has been seeking a deal to normalize ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, seen by Israelis as the biggest prize yet in their decades-long quest for Arab recognition.
Palestinians fear any such agreement could sell out their dreams of an independent state.
Osama Hamdan, the leader of Hamas in Lebanon, told Reuters that Saturday’s operation should make Arab states realize that accepting Israeli security demands would not bring peace.
Across the Middle East, there were demonstrations in support of Hamas, with Israeli and US flags set on fire and marchers waving Palestinian flags in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Iran and Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese allies, praised the Hamas attack.
Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri told Al Jazeera the group was holding a large number of Israeli captives, including senior officials.
He said Hamas had enough captives to make Israel free all Palestinians in its jails.
Hamas said the attack was driven by what it called escalated Israeli attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and against Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
That Israel was caught completely off guard was lamented as one of the worst intelligence failures in its history, a shock to a nation that boasts of its intensive infiltration and monitoring of militants.