(Update 1: Adds details throughout, complete re-write, changes dateline, head and lede)
Gaza/Jerusalem, Oct 7 (EFE).- Hamas has launched more than 5,000 rockets from Gaza at Israel and kidnapped the bodies of Israeli soldiers killed in clashes on the border on Saturday, the Islamist group’s military wing said, as Israel declared a state of war alert.
Al-Qassem Brigades’ commander Mohammed Deif announced the surprise launch of its “Operation Al-Aqsa Storm” with the firing of more than 5,000 rockets and shells at Israel.
In addition, militants from the group infiltrated the Israeli city of Sderot, where a battle broke out with Israeli troops, as well as on the border with Gaza, where militants kidnapped dozens of dead and wounded Israeli soldiers, the Brigades said.
It added that its members freed Palestinian prisoners from the Israeli prison in Ashkelon, and in videos posted to social media, they are also seen on the streets of Gaza with an Israeli military vehicle and the body of a soldier.
The Islamist group Islamic Jihad, also with a strong presence and an armed wing inside Gaza, reported that it had joined the Hamas assault.
The multi-pronged attack from Gaza caught the Israeli intelligence services off guard, according to Israeli media.
Beyond the state of war alert declared by the military and the police chief, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered the mobilization of reservists and announced a “special security situation” within Israel, in a radius of zero to 80 kilometers from the Gaza Strip.
This allows the army to “provide civilians with safety instructions at close relevant sites.”
While sirens blared in various parts of Israel, including Jerusalem, the office of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the Security Cabinet will meet at 1 pm local time (10:00 GMT) to analyze the situation after a first meeting at 9.30 am.
So far, the escalation has left at least three dead — one in Israel and two more in Gaza, according to official sources, although these are provisional figures.
In an Israeli town near Gaza, a woman of about 60 years old died in a rocket hit, said the Israeli emergency service Magen David Adom, which also reported 15 wounded and appealed for blood donations.
“Two Palestinians were killed this morning and many others were injured, some seriously, in an Israeli shelling east of Bureij refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip, following an exchange of gunfire between factions in the Gaza Strip and Israeli occupation forces,” reported the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.
“Expecting fierce Israeli reprisal, all sorts of activities, including schools and universities as well as businesses in the Gaza Strip, stopped and people stayed home,” it added.
However, Saleh al-Arouri, a senior Hamas official, also called on the Palestinians in the West Bank “to wage this fight,” which he described as a large-scale operation aimed at defending the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and liberating Palestinian prisoners. EFE