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Israel at war: Hostages taken to Gaza, sirens and explosions continue as night falls

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Israel has vowed to exact an “unprecedented price” for one of the deadliest attacks on the nation’s home soil in decades, declaring war on the Palestinian militant group Hamas after its surprise invasion by land, sea and air.

War erupted in the region on Saturday (Israel time) after Hamas militants fired thousands of rockets across the border, catching the country and intelligence services unawares with a multi-front sunrise attack unseen in its level of co-ordination.

By Saturday evening, Israeli media had reported at least 250 Israelis had been killed and more than 1000 were injured, while Gazan health officials said 232 people were killed and 1697 wounded during Israel’s retaliatory air strikes on Gaza City. The death toll on both sides is expected to rise.

World leaders from across the globe have condemned the attack, including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese who said Australia stands with its friend Israel.

“We condemn the indiscriminate and abhorrent attacks by Hamas on Israel, its cities and civilians,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We recognise Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Explosions and sirens that rang out across Israel continued into Saturday night, including at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, where passengers and a CNN television crew were forced to shelter with their bags on the tarmac. International airlines have cancelled or diverted flights from Israel.

Millions of Israelis celebrating an important religious holiday were forced to hunker down in safe rooms and bomb shelters, while Hamas carried out a mass invasion of Israeli army bases and towns.

Some militants entered using paragliders and motorbikes, with others kidnapping soldiers and civilians to take back to Gaza. Israel’s Defence Force has accused Hamas of abducting “prisoners of war”.

In a televised address, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the “murderous surprise attack” would not be tolerated and that the country was at war.

“Not in an operation or in rounds, but at war … We are in a war, and we will win it,” he said.

Israel has announced a mass army mobilisation, while tens of thousands of army reservists have been called up to respond to the assault, which erupted almost 50 years to the day of the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

“We will bring the fight to them with might and scale which the enemy has not yet known … The enemy will pay an unprecedented price,” Netanyahu said.

Rockets began falling across Israel about 6am on Saturday (Israel time), while armed Hamas militants infiltrated southern towns raining gunfire on civilians.

In Sderot, in southern Israel near Gaza, bodies of Israeli civilians lay across a highway, surrounded by broken glass, Reuters reported.

Israeli has since begun targeted retaliatory air strikes on the Gaza Strip, destroying buildings in populated civilian areas.

As night fell, the death toll kept climbing and Hamas said it fired a fresh fusillade of roughly 150 rockets at Tel Aviv.

A rare recorded message from the leader of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Deif, on Saturday announced the start of the assault, which he called “Operation Al-Aqsa Storm”.

“Today, the people are regaining their revolution. This is the day of the greatest battle to end the last occupation on earth,” he said, claiming that 5000 rockets had been launched to strike Israel.

Deif called on Palestinians from east Jerusalem to northern Israel to join the fight, urging them to seek weapons: “If you have a gun, get it out. This is the time to use it – get out with trucks, cars, axes. Today, the most honorable history begins.”

Later, Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri told the TV network Al Jazeera that the group was holding dozens of Israelis hostage, including senior officials. He indicated that Hamas wants to trade its hostages for militants imprisoned in Israel.

Political commentators have lambasted the Israeli government over its failure to anticipate the attack, foreshadowing likely recriminations over the unseen attack.

Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, told The Washington Post it was “a total failure of intelligence and a failure of operational readiness, so there will have to be an accounting”.

The surprise assault took place on Simchat Torah, a normally joyous day when Jews complete the annual cycle of reading the Torah scroll. It marks the most serious escalation since Israel and Hamas fought a 10-day war in 2021, when 4300 rockets were fired over the course of 11 days.

Videos posted on social media showed hundreds of Israelis attending a desert music festival fleeing and screaming as soldiers launched surprise raids.

Other videos from Gaza showed an apparently lifeless body of an Israeli soldier being trampled by an angry crowd shouting “God is great,” another showed an Israeli soldier being dragged from a tank. The authenticity of the videos could not immediately be verified.

The incident has attracted condemnation from leaders across the world, with US President Joe Biden reiterating the country’s support for Israel in a short, scripted statement delivered at the White House.

“When I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, I told him the US stands with the people of Israel in the face of these terrorist assaults. Israel has the right to defend itself and his people full stop. There’s never a justification for terrorist attacks,” he said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and British Foreign Minister James Cleverly have all also condemned the Hamas attack.

Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign ministry said attacks by its ally Hamas on Israel on Saturday were an act of self-defence by Palestinians, and called on Muslim countries to support their rights. Qatar echoed that sentiment with remarks that Israel alone was responsible for the ongoing escalation of violence with the Palestinian people.

The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, one of Israel’s adversaries, said it was in direct contact with the leadership of the Palestinian resistance. It said the action by Hamas was “a message to those seeking normalisation with Israel”.

Article link:
Article source: The Age (Reuters, Bloomberg, AP) | Lucy Cormack | October 8, 2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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