Israel and the Gaza Strip are at war after the start of a surprise and spectacular Hamas military offensive early Saturday morning, which fired thousands of rockets, infiltrated fighters into Israeli territory and captured an unknown 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 232 dead on the Palestinian side, according to the Ministry of Health of Hamas, the Islamist movement in power on the Gaza Strip since 2007.
It 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 offensive by the Palestinian Islamist movement comes on the last day of the Jewish holidays of Sukkot in Israel, when the country is living in slow motion and many pilgrims and tourists have flocked during this school vacation 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.
Hostilities began before 6:30 a.m. local time, with 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 street.
“Gates of Hell”
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 had fired more than “5,000 rockets” in total. . “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, and around 11:00 a.m. it announced it would carry out its first airstrikes on Gaza in retaliation.
“Dozens of fighter jets are currently striking targets of the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip,” she said.
“Send help please […]they are shooting at our house,” implored a pregnant woman living a few kilometers from the Gaza Strip, in a testimony relayed by the daily Times of Israel.
AFP journalists saw armed Palestinians gathered around a burning Israeli tank and others driving an Israeli Humvee through the streets of Gaza.
At mid-morning, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, spokesman for the Israeli army, announced that troops are engaged in ground fighting on Israeli territory in “several locations around the Gaza Strip” against fighters infiltrators described as “terrorists”.
On Saturday evening, Israeli airstrikes destroyed the three buildings of the “Palestine Tower” in Gaza, noted AFP journalists, who saw the three towers of more than ten floors collapse one after the other. another after explosions.
The Israeli army accused the “Hamas terrorist organization” of sheltering its military infrastructure and said it had warned residents before the strikes and “asked them to evacuate the premises”.
In the occupied West Bank, two Palestinians were killed, in Ramallah and Jericho, and around fifty others injured during clashes with Israeli forces and settlers, said the Palestinian Ministry of Health and the Red Crescent.
Israeli General Rassan Alian, head of COGAT, the Defense Ministry body overseeing civilian activities in the Palestinian Territories, said Hamas had “opened the gates of hell” and that it ” would pay the consequences.”
The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, claimed to have “captured several enemy soldiers” in a video showing at least three clearly frightened men in civilian clothes, detained by a squad of armed people with blurred faces.
The al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, also declared that they were detaining “many soldiers” from Israel.
The Israeli army spokesperson confirmed in the evening that “Israeli soldiers and civilians” had been kidnapped during the infiltration of Hamas armed men.
From the morning, hundreds of civilians fled their homes in the northeast of the Gaza Strip to move away from the border with Israel, according to an AFP correspondent.
“Hamas made a big mistake this morning,” Israeli soldiers “are fighting the enemy in every location,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said.
On Saturday evening, Israel ordered the electricity supply to Gaza to be cut off, according to its Energy Minister.
The UN announced that it had convened an emergency meeting of the Security Council on the Middle East on Sunday.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the international community for “diplomatic efforts to avoid a widening of the conflagration” between Israel and Hamas.
American President Joe Biden, who spoke with Benjamin Netanyahu, “warns any actor hostile to Israel who would seek to take advantage of the situation,” according to a White House press release.
He said the United States “stands ready to provide all appropriate assistance to support the government and people of Israel.”
American Defense Minister Lloyd Austin expressed to his Israeli counterpart “his unwavering support for the Israeli Defense Forces and the Israeli people.”
The European Union and several European capitals “strongly condemned” the attacks.
“This horrific 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 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.
More than a thousand rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, most of them intercepted by the Israeli air defense system. Israel, for its part, had increased airstrikes on this territory.
Hamas remained aloof from the conflict.
Israel has imposed a strict blockade on the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control.