Over 230 Palestinians martyred as Israel launches retaliatory strikes in Gaza
- “We will take mighty vengeance for this wicked day,” vows Netnayhu.
- Hamas highlights threats to Al-Aqsa Mosque, blockade on Gaza.
- Senior Israeli military officers among those killed in fighting.
The death toll from Saturday’s massive attack by Hamas on Israel has risen to 300 while over 1,000 have been injured with Palestinian gunmen escaping with dozens of hostages including military personnel, Israeli media reported on Sunday.
More than 230 Gazans were also martyred when Israel responded with one of its most devastating days of retaliatory strikes. Fighting continued into the night.
Hamas said its unprecedented offensive by land, air and sea was in response to the desecration of the Al Aqsa Mosque as well as Israeli atrocities against Palestinians over the decades. These include the 16-year blockade of Gaza, Israeli raids inside West Bank cities over the past year, increasing attacks by settlers on Palestinians as well as the growth of illegal settlements, according to Al Jazeera.
Mohammed Deif, a Hamas military commander, said the time has come “for the enemy to understand… they cannot keep going without consequences”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to turn the besieged Palestinian enclave into a “deserted island”.
“We will take mighty vengeance for this wicked day,” PM Netanyahu said.
“Hamas launched a cruel and wicked war. We will win this war but the price is too heavy to bear,” he said. “Hamas wants to murder us all. This is an enemy that murders mothers and children in their homes, in their beds. An enemy that abducts elderly, children, teenage girls.”
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the assault that had begun in Gaza, a narrow strip that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians, would spread to the West Bank and Jerusalem. Gazans have lived under an Israeli blockade for 16 years.
Bodies of Israeli civilians were strewn across the streets of Sderot in southern Israel, near Gaza, surrounded by broken glass. The bodies of a man and woman were sprawled across the front seats of a car.
Senior military officers were among those killed in fighting near Gaza, the Israeli military said.
Israeli troops clashed with Hamas fighters throughout the night in some parts of southern Israel. In a briefing on social media, an Israeli army spokesperson said the situation was not fully under control.
The Israeli prime minister’s office said the security cabinet had approved steps to destroy the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad “for many years”, including cutting electricity and fuel supplies and the entry of goods into Gaza.
In Gaza, black smoke, orange flashes and sparks lit the sky from explosions. Israeli drones could be heard overhead. Earlier, crowds of mourners had carried the bodies of martyrs through the streets, wrapped in green Hamas flags.
Gaza’s martyrs 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.
Streets were deserted apart from ambulances racing to the scenes of air strikes. Israel cut the power, plunging the city into darkness.
Hezbollah fires missiles
As fighting raged Sunday, Lebanon´s powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement said it had fired “large numbers of artillery shells and guided missiles” at Israeli positions in contested border areas “in solidarity” with Hamas.
Israel´s army had earlier said it fired artillery on southern Lebanon in response to a shot from the area without identifying the attackers.
Meanwhile, in a post on X, the Israeli army said its forces hit the home of Hamas’s intelligence chief in the Gaza Strip.
The home was used as a military infrastructure by the group, according to army’s statement.
The army continues to carry out attacks across Gaza, the statement added.
‘Gates of hell’
Israeli army Major General Ghasan Alyan warned Hamas had “opened the gates of hell”.
An AFP journalist in Gaza saw clouds of dust from the remains of bombed residential towers which Gaza’s interior ministry said contained 100 apartments.
Israel’s military said it had warned residents to evacuate before targeting the multi-storey buildings used by Hamas.
Israel’s state-run electricity company cut the power supply to Gaza as army flares lit up the night sky.
The escalation follows months of rising violence, mostly in the occupied West Bank, and tensions around Gaza’s border and at contested holy sites in Jerusalem.
Before Saturday, at least 247 Palestinians were marytred, 32 Israelis and two foreigners had been killed this year, including combatants and civilians, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Hamas labelled its attack “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” and called on “resistance fighters in the West Bank” as well as in “Arab and Islamic nations” to join the battle.
Its armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, claimed to have fired more than 5,000 rockets, while Hecht said Israel had counted more than 3,000 incoming rockets.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said the group was on the “verge of a great victory”.
“The cycle of intifadas (uprisings) and revolutions in the battle to liberate our land and our prisoners languishing in occupation prisons must be completed,” he said.
Air raid sirens wailed across southern and central Israel, as well as in Jerusalem. In Tel Aviv, a gaping hole was ripped into a building, with residents boarding a bus to flee to safety.
The conflict sparked major disruption at Tel Aviv airport, where many carriers cancelled flights. Schools will remain closed on Sunday, the start of the week in Israel.
Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, leading to Israel’s crippling blockade of the impoverished enclave of 2.3 million people.
Israel and Hamas have since fought several wars. The last major military exchange, in May, killed 34 Palestinians and one Israeli.
In northern Gaza on Saturday, hundreds of people fled their homes, carrying food and blankets, an AFP correspondent said.
Violence also erupted across the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, with five Palestinians martyred and 120 wounded in clashes with Israeli forces and settlers, Palestinian medical services said.
Western capitals condemned the wave of attacks by Hamas, which Israel, the United States and European Union label as a terrorist group.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the attack “terrorism in its most despicable form”.
But Hamas drew support from other foes of Israel, with Iran’s supreme leader declaring he was “proud” and Lebanese group Hezbollah praising the “heroic operation”.
UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland warned of “a dangerous precipice” and called on all sides to “pull back from the brink”.
With additional input from Reuters, AFP