Israel and the Gaza Strip are at war after the start of a surprise and spectacular Hamas military offensive early Saturday morning, who shot thousands of rockets, infiltrated fighters in Israeli territory and captured an indeterminate number of Israelis.
This eruption of violence has already left 70 dead on the Israeli side, according to Magen David Adom, the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross, and 198 dead on the Palestinian side, according to the Ministry of Health of Hamas, the Islamist movement in power on the Gaza Strip since 2007.
This is the deadliest escalation since the May 2021 11-day war between Hamas and the Israeli army.
“We are at war, it is not a simple operation or a cycle of violence, but a war,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video message. “We are at war and we will win it.”
The Hamas offensive comes on the last day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in Israel, when the country is in slow motion and many pilgrims and tourists have flocked during this school holiday period.
It also takes place fifty years and one day after the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war which took Israel completely by surprise in the middle of Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement) and led to the deaths of 2,600 Israelis and at least 9,500 deaths. dead and missing on the Arab side in three weeks of combat.
Rescuers evacuate a wounded man by helicopter from Sderot, in southern Israel, after an attack by Palestinian Hamas, October 7, 2023 © AFP – Menahem KAHANA
Hostilities began before 6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. GMT) by a deluge of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, towards neighboring Israeli towns but also deeper into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Taking advantage of the element of surprise, Hamas fighters aboard vehicles, boats and even motorized paragliders made use of the imposing security barrier erected by Israel around the Gaza Strip, attacking military positions or civilians in the middle of the street.
– “Gates of Hell” –
In Sderot, a town near the border with Gaza, an AFP journalist counted at least 8 corpses of civilians scattered in the street.
Rockets fired by Palestinian Hamas from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, October 7, 2023 © AFP – MAHMUD HAMS
“Send help please” implored a pregnant woman living in the kibbutz Soufa (a few kilometers from the Gaza Strip) in a testimony relayed by the daily Times of Israel.
“They are shooting at our house, they are trying to break down the door of the secure room”, she added, indicating that she was speaking from a secure shelter where she was holed up with relatives.
AFP journalists saw armed Palestinians gathered around a burning Israeli tank and others driving an Israeli Humvee through the streets of Gaza City.
Palestinians take control of 'an Israeli tank after crossing the border with Israel from Khan Yunis, on October 7, 2023 in the south of the Gaza Strip © AFP – SAID KHATIB
At mid-morning, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht, spokesperson for the Israeli army, announced that Israeli troops are engaged in ground fighting in Israeli territory in “several locations around the Gaza Strip” against undercover fighters described as “terrorists.”
“At this precise moment, we are fighting,” he said, “there are wounded, of course.”
In the evening, the Israeli army spokesperson confirmed that “Israeli soldiers and civilians” had been kidnapped during the infiltration of Hamas gunmen.
Around 11:00 a.m. (8:00 a.m. GMT), the army announced that it would carry out its first airstrikes on Gaza in retaliation. These strikes continued until the afternoon, according to AFP journalists in Gaza.
Palestinian activists aboard a van believed to be transporting a captured Israeli woman, in Khan Younes, in the south of the Gaza Strip, October 7, 2023 © AFP – –
“Dozens of fighter planes are currently striking targets of the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip,” the army said in a statement.
Israeli General Rassan Alian, head of COGAT, the Defense Ministry body overseeing civilian activities in the Palestinian Territories, claimed that Hamas had “opened the gates of hell” and that it ” would pay the consequences.”
The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, claimed to have “captured several enemy soldiers” in a video showing at least three men in civilian clothes, clearly frightened, detained by a squad of armed people with blurred faces.
The al-Quds Brigades, the military branch of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, also declared that they were holding “many soldiers” from Israel.
In an audio message broadcast by Hamas television, the commander of the Al-Qassam brigades , Mohammad Deif, announced that he had launched the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation against Israel and said he had fired more than “5,000 rockets” from the start of this offensive. “We have decided to put an end to all the crimes of the occupation,” he added.
In response, the Israeli army launched Operation “Steel Sabers”.
Palestinian activists head towards the border with Israel from Khan Younes, in the south of the Gaza Strip, on October 7, 2023 © AFP – SAID KHATIB
From early morning, hundreds of civilians fled their homes in the northeastern Gaza Strip away from the border with Israel, and some found shelter in UN Refugee Agency schools. Palestinians (UNRWA), according to an AFP correspondent.
“Hamas made a serious mistake this morning by launching a war against the State of Israel”, Israeli soldiers “are in the process of to fight the enemy in every place,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said.
– “Horrible violence” –
The White House “unequivocally condemned the unjustified attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians,” and “we stand with the government and people of Israel.”
A residential building hit by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, October 7, 2023 in Ashkelon, southern Israel © AFP – AHMAD GHARABLI
The EU and several European capitals “strongly condemned” the attacks.
“This horrible violence must stop immediately. Terrorism and violence solve nothing”, underlined the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell.
French President, Emmanuel Macron , also condemned “the terrorist attacks which are currently hitting Israel”.
Russia called for “restraint” and Turkey to avoid escalation.
In May, Israel launched an offensive against Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, triggering a five-day war between the Israeli army, Islamic Jihad and other armed groups in the territory that cost the lives of 34 Palestinians. and an Israeli.
Israeli reservist soldiers on their way to their base south of Tel-Aviv, October 7, 2323 © AFP – GIL COHEN-MAGEN
More than a thousand rockets had been fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, most of which were intercepted by the Israeli air defense system. Israel, for its part, had increased airstrikes on this territory.
Hamas had stayed away from the conflict.
Israel has imposed a strict blockade on the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control.
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