All-out war: Israel pounds Gaza after militants infiltrate in a large-scale attack
Updated October 7, 2023 at 10:03 PM ET
TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel is in a state of war, after Palestinian militants launched a large-scale surprise attack from the blockaded Gaza Strip on civilian and military targets in Israel early Saturday. Hundreds of people have been killed on both sides, and an unknown number of Israelis have been taken hostage.
A new day is now beginning in Gaza and Israel, and it promises more violence, even as a range of countries, from the U.S. to Israel's Arab neighbors, urge the combatants not to escalate the conflict further.
But leaders on both sides say they're now at war — and that it won't be over soon. In the first day of attacks and fighting, at least 250 Israelis were killed, and more than 1,000 wounded. More than 230 Palestinians were killed, with nearly 2,000 injured, according to health officials in Gaza.
The violence has ranged from close-combat ground fighting to airstrikes and rocket attacks.
Questions that are now circulating range from how calm might be restored to what goals Israel might pursue in response to what it deems an invasion, and whether open warfare might derail U.S. efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Here's where things stand:
Israel vows to root out Hamas completely
Israel will "reach into every place Hamas is hiding" and turn those locations into ruins, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed in a late-night TV address. Israel's military is calling up reservist soldiers, reinforcing positions and launching airstrikes on targets in Gaza.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group, took control of Gaza in 2007.
Anyone in areas where Hamas operates in the Gaza Strip should "leave those places now," Netanyahu said. He added, "Israel will settle the score with anyone who harms them."
But for some 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza, leaving Hamas-linked areas isn't so simple. For more than 16 years, the Gaza Strip has been under a blockade by Israel and Egypt that restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the country.
Israeli airstrikes hit central Gaza City Saturday night, leveling a 14-story building that housed Hamas offices, as well as apartments, according to The Associated Press. The agency reports that Israel gave warning of the airstrike, and no casualties were reported.
"We are at war," Netanyahu said early Saturday, in a video statement in front of Israel's military headquarters. He vowed to exact an "immense price from the enemy."
Netanyahu's office says his security cabinet met and decided to shut off electricity and gas Israel supplies to Gaza and to block the import and export of goods through Israel's border crossing.
In Gaza City, morgues and hospitals overflowed with families seeking news about their relatives. The streets were dark Saturday night.
Local humanitarian worker Yousef Hammash, associated with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Gaza, talked to NPR from Jabalia Refugee Camp. "We are now entirely unprepared and uncertain about how we could continue our humanitarian work the next day with a new contingency plan," he said, as the sound of bombardments echoed from his phone.
Hamas launched an unprecedented attack
At 6:30 a.m. local time, Palestinian militants launched a complex offensive against Israel, infiltrating by using paragliders, through an amphibious operation at the Mediterranean Sea and on land, Israeli military spokesman Richard Hecht told reporters.
A border fence was breached with explosives — and also with heavy equipment, according to videos from the scene.
Simultaneously, Palestinian militants in Gaza fired heavy barrages of rockets toward Israel — more than 3,000 rockets throughout the day, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Air raid sirens and loud booms were heard in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across central and southern Israel.
Top Hamas militant commander Mohammed Deif called for a regional war. In a statement, he said Saturday's attacks were a response to Israeli "desecration" of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a reference to Jewish religious ultranationalists who visited the holy site, also revered in Judaism as the Temple Mount, this past week during a Jewish holiday.
Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen fought each other for hours in at least five southern Israeli communities close to Gaza — the town of Sderot and the kibbutz communities of Nahal Oz, Beeri, Magen and Kfar Aza — as well as two Israeli military camps in the area, Hecht said.
As of 8 p.m. local time on Saturday, Hecht said the military was still "engaged" with militants in 22 locations, including in situations where Israeli hostages were being held. He did not say how many hostages were taken.
The head of a southern Israeli regional council was fatally shot by Palestinian militants in Kfar Aza, a council spokeswoman told Israel's public broadcaster, and one woman was reportedly killed by rocket fire in southern Israel.
Israeli media reported that groups of Gaza militants drove into Israel on trucks, reaching civilian communities inside Israel. Eyewitnesses told Israel's public broadcaster that Palestinian militants roamed outside Israeli homes and opened fire at an outdoor nature festival, sending Israelis running in fields and hiding in bushes. Israeli police ordered residents of southern Israel to remain in their homes.
Biden says U.S. has "rock solid" support for Israel
President Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu Saturday morning, telling him the U.S. is "ready to offer all appropriate means of support" to Israel.
"Terrorism is never justified," Biden said in a statement. "Israel has a right to defend itself and its people."
The president said his administration's "support for Israel's security is rock solid and unwavering."
High-level U.S. officials are in talks with their counterparts in Israel and regional allies, from Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin — who said the Pentagon will continue to consult with Israel to make sure it has the support it needs.
What additional support, if any, is uncertain, U.S. officials tell NPR. The United States provides billions of dollars each year in assistance to Israel and helped the country build its Iron Dome missile defense system.
The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem urged all sides to refrain from violence and retaliatory attacks, stating, "Terror and violence solve nothing."
The latest violence could also threaten efforts to reach a U.S.-brokered diplomatic deal tonormalize relationsbetween Saudi Arabia and Israel. On Saturday, a senior Biden administration official told reporters it's too early to say how those talks might be affected.
For its part, Saudi Arabia said on Saturday that it has repeatedly warned of "an explosive situation" in the absence of a peace process and continued Israeli occupation. It called for restraint on both sides.
War erupts after weeks of clashes
Saturday's violence took place on the Jewish Sabbath and the Simchat Torah holiday, and a day after the 50th anniversary of the start of the pivotal 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel came under a surprise attack by Arab countries.
The violence comes after recent weeks of volatile clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops along the Gaza-Israel border, and deadly Israeli military raids and clashes with Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Israel and militants in Gaza have fought multiple wars in the last decade and a half.
In recent weeks, Egyptian mediators have reportedly sought to broker an agreement that would prevent Gaza-Israel violence, financially stabilize Hamas' government employees in Gaza and increase the number of Palestinian laborers allowed to work in Israel.
Israel has also been seeing its own domestic strife, including disputes over the far-right Israeli government's efforts to weaken Israel's judiciary.
But on Saturday, protest organizers canceled a large weekly demonstration. A protest group of reservist soldiers, which has led a large movement of reservists refusing to attend military trainings, called on reservists to serve if they were called up.
Aya Batrawy, Majd Al-Waheidi and Tom Bowman contributed reporting.
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