Rocket barrages strike southern Israel in operation claimed by Hamas, Netanyahu says Israel is 'at war'

Southern Israel was impacted by rocket barrages launched from the Gaza Strip on Saturday in an attack claimed by the Islamist movement Hamas.

Oct 7, 2023 - 12:50
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Rocket barrages strike southern Israel in operation claimed by Hamas, Netanyahu says Israel is 'at war'

Militants infiltrated areas of southern Israel as rocket barrages launched from the Gaza Strip struck the region on Saturday in an attack the Islamist movement Hamas is taking responsibility for.

A senior Hamas military commander, Mohammad Deif, announced the start of the operation in which he called on Palestinians everywhere to attack the Israelis.

"This is the day of the greatest battle to end the last occupation on earth," he said in a broadcast on Hamas media, saying that 5,000 rockets had been launched.

In a video message early Saturday morning, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "Citizens of Israel, we are at war — not in an operation, not in rounds — at war."

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An Israeli woman was killed in the operation, according to emergency services. Ambulance crews responded to areas around the Gaza Strip, and sirens sounded across Israel. Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva, the largest town in southern Israel, is treating 140 wounded, including 20 in serious and critical condition. Some of these wounded people are civilians. Another hospital in Ashkelon is treating 94 victims wounded in various conditions.

According to Israeli media, gunmen opened fire on passersby in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, and footage of the fighting appeared to show attacks in city streets.

"A number of terrorists have infiltrated into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip," the Israeli military said in a statement. 

Residents in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip are urged to remain in their homes.

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"The Israeli Defence Forces will defend Israeli civilians and the Hamas terrorist organization will pay heavy price for its actions," the military said.

Netanyahu's office said he would meet top security officials in the coming hours to address the operation.

The sound of rocket launches could be heard in Gaza as residents reported armed clashes along the separation fence with Israel, near the southern town of Khan Younis. The residents said they had seen significant movement of armed fighters.

U.S. National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson "unequivocally" condemned the attacks, calling them unprovoked and stressing that "There is never any justification for terrorism." 

"We stand firmly with the Government and people of Israel and extend our condolences for the Israeli lives lost in these attacks," Watson wrote in a statement released Saturday morning. "National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has spoken to Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi and we remain in close contact with our Israeli partners."

U.S. Chargé d’Affaires a.i. at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, Stephanie L. Hallett, wrote on X, "Sickened by the images coming out of southern Israel of dead and wounded civilians at the hands of terrorists from Gaza. The United States stands with Israel."

European leaders are condemning the Hamas attack and voicing strong support for Israel. The head of the European Union’s executive commission, Ursula von der Leyen, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Saturday that the attack "is terrorism in its most despicable form." She said that "Israel has the right to defend itself against such heinous attacks."

German Chancellor Olaf Sholz said the terrorist rocket fire and rising violence "shock us deeply." He added that "Germany condemns these attacks by Hamas and stands beside Israel." 

French President Emmanuel Macron wrote that he "firmly" condemns the "terrorist attacks" against Israel and expressed "my full solidarity with the victims, their families and their loved ones."

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was "shocked" by the attacks. "Israel has an absolute right to defend itself," he posted on X. 

Dozens of IDF fighter jets were seen delivering strikes to a number of targets belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip.

In accordance with assessments by Israel's defense establishment, Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant has announced a "special security situation" in Israel’s homefront, within a 0-80 km radius from the Gaza Strip that enables the IDF to provide civilians with safety instructions and close relevant sites.

There has been fighting between Israel and Gaza in years past, and the fighting that started on Saturday is expected to last several days.

Fox News' Trey Yingst and Yonat Friling the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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