VAM News Update
THE Palestinian Islamist group Hamas launched the biggest attack on Israel in years on Saturday, killing more than 22 people in a surprise assault that combined gunmen penetrating into Israeli towns with a barrage of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.
Israel said the Iran-backed group had declared war as its army confirmed fighting with militants in several Israeli towns and military bases near Gaza and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to retaliate.
“Our enemy will pay a price the type of which it has never known,” he said. “We are in a war and we will win it.”
The Israeli military said it had launched air strikes into Gaza, where witnesses reported hearing heavy explosions, with at least two dead.
The attack marked an unprecedented infiltration by an unknown number of Hamas gunmen into Israel from Gaza, and one of the most serious escalations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in years.
Israeli broadcaster Reshet 13 TV News said militants were holding Israelis hostage in the town of Ofakim, and that five Palestinian militants had been killed in the town of Sderot and homes had been set on fire.
Israeli media reported gunbattles between bands of Palestinian fighters and security forces in towns in southern Israel. Israel’s police chief said there were “21 active scenes” in southern Israel, indicating the extent of the attack.
In Gaza, people rushed to buy supplies in anticipation of days of conflict ahead. Some evacuated their homes and headed for shelters.
Hamas military commander Mohammad Deif announced the start of the operation in a broadcast on Hamas media, calling on Palestinians everywhere to fight.
The last major flare-up between Israel and Hamas was a 10-day war in 2021.
Israeli Defence Minister Gallant said “troops are fighting against the enemy at every location” and authorised the call-up of reservists.
The Israeli military said its forces were operating inside Gaza but gave no details.
Israeli media reported that gunmen had opened fire on passers-by in Sderot, and footage circulating on social media appeared to show clashes in city streets as well as gunmen in jeeps roaming the countryside.
The escalation comes against a backdrop of surging violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in the West Bank, which together with the Gaza Strip is part of the territories where Palestinians have long sought to establish a state.