Twenty-four hours after the surprise attack by Hamas, Israel was trying on Sunday to regain control of all its territory. Israeli soldiers are still fighting in eight points against the Palestinian militia members who infiltrated on Saturday from the Gaza Strip — a state of fragility comparable only to the Yom Kippur War — and have been killing and kidnapping civilians, police officers and soldiers on the street, in their homes, in military bases and even at a music festival.
Although Israel has been heavily bombing Gaza since Saturday (413 Palestinians have been killed so far and 2,300 injured), its first objective is to put order at home before launching into a “long and difficult” war, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defined it after a Security Cabinet meeting. The Israeli government announced Sunday morning that it was cutting off the supply of electricity, fuel and goods to Gaza, and the Israeli Army said that it intends to evacuate all towns near the Gaza Strip.
“We are embarking on a long and difficult war that was forced on us by a murderous Hamas attack,” Netanyahu said on X, formerly Twitter, early Sunday. “The first stage is ending at this time by the destruction of the vast majority of the enemy forces that infiltrated our territory. At the same time, we have begun the offensive phase, which will continue with neither limitations nor respite until the objectives are achieved.” The government’s declaration of a state of war allows for “significant military activities” and limits meetings.
So far, the Israeli army has bombed buildings (including an 11-story tower), the homes of Hamas leaders, a mosque and tunnels. Twenty of the 413 Palestinian victims are children, according to the Gaza Strip’s Health Ministry. More than 20,000 Gazans have taken refuge in United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools.
At the same time, Israeli security forces have been regaining control of localities seized by militants, capturing dozens and freeing hostages. In the town of Sderot, for example, they bombed a police station, where 10 armed men were barricaded. A senior Hamas official, Musa Abou Marzuk, said more than a hundred Israelis were being held hostage, including senior military officers. Shortly before, Islamic Jihad also claimed to be holding another 30 Israelis hostage, according to the Israeli press.
With the advance of Israel’s troops, more victims have been discovered, raising the death toll to 700 (around 2,200 have been wounded), according to data from the health services quoted by the local press. This is equivalent to two-thirds of all Israelis killed during the Second Intifada (2000-2005).
According to a spokesman for the Zaka emergency services quoted by the daily Yediot Aharonot, 260 of the victims were attending a Supernova rave, a festival next to a kibbutz in the Negev desert, a few miles from Gaza. One of the survivors, Ortal, recounted how 50 gunmen suddenly appeared in vans, as rocket alerts competed with blaring music.
“Suddenly, out of nowhere, they came in, opening fire in all directions. I grabbed the car keys and we started moving forward to escape the gunfire. In a moment they reached us, shot at our vehicles and we got out [...]. I climbed a tree and they started firing at people. I put my cellphone on silent mode and started crawling through an orange grove. I could hear the whistling of gunshots. I saw wounded friends. Suddenly, a tank approached. I was sure it would rescue me, but the driver said: ‘I can’t let you in, I have a dead man in the tank. A lot of people jumped on top of me,” she told Israeli TV Channel 12. A video released Saturday shows dozens of participants fleeing in panic.
Meanwhile, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Islamist organization Hamas, claimed that some of its militia members are still fighting against Israeli forces. Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari admitted on Sunday afternoon that there were still armed men in Israel. School classes have been suspended sine die in the country, the streets are half-empty and at the Shaykh Hussein border crossing with Jordan, groups of tourists could be seen cutting short their vacations to leave.
Israeli authorities have also extended the state of emergency — initially only declared in some areas — to the entire country. The most concerning prospect is what is known in Israel as a “multi-front war,” i.e. that armed groups in the West Bank and, above all, Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia with an arsenal, preparation and manpower far superior to that of the Palestinian groups, will come into action. On Sunday, Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the launch of mortar shells against Israel, which responded with bombings. No casualties were reported.
After the incident, well below Hezbollah’s capacity for action, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon (FINL) reported that it is in contact at “all levels” with both Lebanese and Israeli authorities to avoid a “more serious escalation.”
On Sunday, while Israeli visitors were touring the Egyptian city of Alexandria, “a local opened fire on them and two Israeli citizens and the local Egyptian guide were killed,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. Another tourist was also wounded, but is in a stable condition. Israel has asked its citizens to leave Egypt as soon as possible and to avoid traveling to certain countries in the Middle East.
The condemnation of the attack from governments gave way on Sunday to calls for an end to the violence, with Pope Francis and the African Union sending a message for peace. Turkey, for its part, said that it would redouble its diplomatic efforts to calm the situation, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned that an escalation of violence would have “incalculable” consequences for the region. The European Union, which “strongly condemns terrorist violence,” has also begun making contact to encourage a cessation of hostilities. The permanent representative of Palestine to the Arab League, Muhannad al-Aklouk, also called for an urgent meeting of the foreign ministers of the member countries.
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