Jerusalem/Gaza, Oct 7 (EFE).- Israel and the Palestinians were at war on Saturday, killing hundreds of people on both sides, after Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise multi-front attack on Israeli border towns from the blockaded Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian health ministry reported 198 casualties and over 1,600 injuries in the coastal enclave following Israel’s unprecedented military response to the Hamas assault.
In Israel, local media, citing medical sources, claimed over 100 fatalities and more than 900 injuries in the Hamas offensive, which caught Israeli security forces off-guard. The government officially confirmed 40 casualties.
The conflict escalated after Hamas militants stormed into several Israeli towns by air, land, and sea and fired thousands of rockets from Gaza, surprising the Israeli security forces.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country was in a state of war.
“Citizens of Israel, we are at war,” Netanyahu said in a televised address to the nation.
The prime minister declared a mass military mobilization of the army reserves and ordered the security forces to clear the infiltrated towns where dozens of Hamas militants were fighting Israeli soldiers.
Israel conducted airstrikes on the Gaza Strip in response to the surprise “Operation Al-Aqsa Storm” by the Islamist group, considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States, and the European Union.
The Palestinian group said it launched more than 5,000 rockets from Gaza at Israel and took away the bodies of Israeli soldiers killed in clashes on the border.
In response, Israel launched “Swords of Iron,” a military offensive in Gaza, causing deaths and destruction.
According to Palestinian sources, at least five buildings have been destroyed in Gaza by Israeli bombings, sparking hospital emergencies.
Thousands of Gazans were evacuated from Beit Hanoun, Jabalia, and Beit Lahia in north of the enclave and housed in Gaza City schools run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
The deceased included at least 20 Palestinian militants who died fighting in Israel after they stormed into the Israeli territory in the morning.
Estimates indicate that the number of militants infiltrating Israel could be higher than the Israeli government says.
Some say hundreds, or even more than 1,000 Palestinian fighters of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups, could be in Israel, fighting the military.
The militants killed Israeli soldiers, held residents hostage in Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip, and kidnapped around 50 people, according to Gazan sources and videos posted on social networks.
Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy chairman of Hamas’ politburo, said the attack on Israel was in response to the alleged desecration of the Al-Aqsa mosque.
“The Palestinian resistance and the Al-Qassam Brigades will not remain silent in the face of the desecration of our sacred sites. We will not accept the continuation of the siege on Gaza or the ongoing detention of our prisoners in Israeli prisons,” he said.
Al-Arouri said the Palestinian fighters militants had captured “senior officials of the Israeli Army”, including a general.
“This is not a (hit-and-run) operation. We started an all-out battle,” he said. EFE