Hamas launches surprise attack on Israel as Palestinian gunmen reported in south

Agencies – Sudan Events

Israel and Hamas appear to be heading to war once again after the Palestinian militant group launched a massive aerial and ground operation from the blockaded Gaza Strip, its biggest attack in years.

Sirens sounded across Israel and as far north as the contested city of Jerusalem from around 7am on Saturday after volleys of what Hamas claimed were 5,000 rockets launched from the blockaded enclave. There also appeared to be a ground infiltration by Hamas gunmen into Israeli towns and villages on the periphery – an unprecedented development in the 16 years since the Islamists took over the strip.

Unconfirmed initial reports and graphic pictures and video appeared to show that gunmen had opened fire in the border town of Sderot, killing several Israeli civilians and soldiers. One elderly woman was confirmed dead by medics in unclear circumstances, and another four people in Bedouin villages in Israel’s south killed by rocket fire.

Palestinian media also reported that a number of Israelis had been taken captive by fighters – reports that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said it was aware of, but did not confirm.

In a statement, Mohammad Deif, Hamas’s military commander in Gaza, announced the start of a new operation to free Jerusalem’s sensitive al-Aqsa mosque compound, which has had an increase in the number of Jewish visitors in the past few weeks owing to the Jewish high holidays. He added that “this is only the first stage” of Hamas’ renewed efforts against Israel.

“We warned the enemy not to continue his aggression against the al-Aqsa mosque … The age of the enemy’s aggression without a response is over. I call on Palestinians everywhere in the West Bank and within the Green Line [Israeli territory] to launch an attack without restraint. Go to all the streets. I call on Muslims everywhere to launch an attack,” he said.

Islamic Jihad, another faction in Gaza, said in a statement on Telegram several hours later that they had also joined the fighting. There are fears of a regional conflagration if the violence spreads to the occupied West Bank, which is on lockdown, to the northern front with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, or intra-communal violence on the streets of Israel, as seen in 2021.

In response to the attacks, which appear to have caught the Israeli security services by surprise, Israel has declared a state of war. In a statement, Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, said: “Hamas has made a grave mistake this morning.”

“A number of terrorists have infiltrated into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip,” the military said in a statement, adding that residents in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip had been told to stay in their homes.

“The Israel Defence Forces will defend Israeli civilians and the Hamas terrorist organisation will pay heavy price for its actions,” it said.

The office of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said he would meet top security officials in the coming hours, and reservist soldiers had been mobilised. The Israeli military said its forces were operating inside Gaza but gave no details.

Saturday’s dramatic developments are the most serious flare-up in the volatile region since Israel and Hamas fought a bloody 10-day battle in 2021.

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