The Israeli government formally declared war and gave the green light to “significant military measures” to retaliate against Hamas for its surprise attack, as the army worked into Monday to crush fighters still in southern cities and intensified their attacks. bombing of the Gaza Strip. The number of victims exceeded 1,100 dead and thousands injured on both sides.
More than 40 hours after Hamas will launch its unprecedented incursion Outside Gaza, Israeli forces were still fighting with militants hiding in several locations. At least 700 people have reportedly been killed in Israel (a staggering number on a scale the country has not experienced in decades) and more than 400 have been killed in Gaza.
Israel said it brought in special forces to try to wrest control of four Israeli sites from Hamas fighters, including two kibbutzim that the militants entered earlier in their attacks. Footage released by Israeli police from one area showed forces kneeling in tall grass as they exchanged fire with Hamas militants in an open field.
The declaration of war foreshadowed greater fighting to come, and a major question was whether Israel would launch a ground attack on Gaza, a move that has led to intensifying casualties in the past.
Meanwhile, Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad group claimed to have taken more than 130 people captive from inside Israel and brought them to Gaza, saying they would be exchanged for the release of thousands of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. The announcement, although unconfirmed, was the first sign of the extent of the abductions.
The captives are known to include soldiers and civilians, including women, children and the elderly, mostly Israelis, but also some people of other nationalities. The Israeli army simply said that the number of captives is "significant."
The Israeli military estimated that 1,000 Hamas fighters took part in Saturday's initial raid. The high figure underscores the extent of planning by the militant group that rules Gaza, which has said it launched the attack in response to growing Palestinian suffering under Israel's occupation and blockade of Gaza.
The gunmen rampaged for hours, gunning down civilians and kidnapping people in towns, on roads and at a techno music festival attended by thousands of people in the desert. The Zaka rescue service said it had removed about 260 bodies from the festival and that number was expected to rise. It was unclear how many of those bodies were already included in Israel's death toll.
In response, Israel has struck more than 800 targets in Gaza so far, its military said, including airstrikes that leveled much of the city of Beit Hanoun in the northeast corner of the enclave.
Israeli Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters that Hamas was using the city as a staging ground for attacks. There was no immediate word on casualties and most of the community's population, tens of thousands strong, likely fled beforehand.
"We will continue to attack in this way, with this force, continuously, on all assembly (places) and routes" used by Hamas, Hagari said.
Civilians on both sides were already paying a heavy price. The Israeli army was evacuating at least five cities near Gaza.
A line of people snaked outside a central Israeli police station to provide DNA samples and other means that could help identify missing relatives.
Mayyan Zin, a divorced mother of two, said she learned that her two daughters had been kidnapped when a relative sent her photos from a Telegram group showing them sitting on mattresses in captivity. Then she found online videos of a chilling scene at her ex-husband's home in the town of Nahal Oz: Armed men who had broken in spoke to her, her leg bleeding, in the living room near the two terrified and crying daughters, Dafna. , 15 years old. and Ella, 8 years old. Another video showed her father being taken across the border into Gaza.
“Just bring my daughters home and their family. All the people,” Zin said.
In Gaza, a small enclave of 2.3 million people isolated by an Egyptian-Israeli blockade for 16 years since Hamas took power, residents feared further escalation. Israeli strikes demolished some residential buildings.
Nasser Abu Quta said 19 members of his family, including his wife, were killed when an airstrike hit their home, where they were huddled on the ground floor in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.
He insisted that there were no militants in his building. "This is a safe house, with children and women," Abu Quta, 57, said by phone. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the attack. Another attack in the same city early Monday killed 11 people, including women and children.
As of Sunday night, retaliatory Israeli airstrikes had destroyed 159 housing units across Gaza and severely damaged another 1,210, the UN said. He said the number of displaced Gazans had risen by tens of thousands, to more than 123,000. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said a school housing more than 225 people suffered a direct hit. He did not say where the fire came from.
Several Israeli media outlets, citing rescue services officials, said at least 700 people have died in Israel, including 44 soldiers. Gaza's Health Ministry said 413 people, including 78 children and 41 women, were killed in the territory. About 2,000 people have been injured on each side. An Israeli official said security forces killed 400 militants and captured dozens more.
In northern Israel, a brief exchange of attacks with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah stoked fears that the fighting could expand into a broader regional war. Hezbollah fired rockets and projectiles on Sunday at Israeli positions in a disputed area along the border, and Israel responded using armed drones. The Israeli military said the situation was calm after the exchange.
The declaration of war on Hamas announced by Israel's Security Cabinet was largely symbolic, said Yohanan Plesner, director of the Israel Democracy Institute, a think tank, but "it demonstrates that the government believes we are entering a period longer, more intense and more significant. of war."
Israel has carried out major military campaigns over the past four decades in Lebanon and Gaza that it described as wars, but without a formal declaration.
The Security Cabinet also approved “important military measures.” The steps were not defined, but the declaration appears to give the military and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a broad mandate.
In a statement, Netanyahu's office said the goal will be the destruction of Hamas's "military and governance capabilities" to a point that prevents it from threatening Israelis "for many years."
Israelis were still stunned by the breadth, ferocity and surprise of the Hamas attack. The group's fighters breached Israel's security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip early Saturday. Using motorcycles and pickup trucks, even paragliders and speed boats on the coast, they moved to nearby Israeli communities: up to 22 locations.
The high death toll and slow response to the attack pointed to a major intelligence failure and undermined the long-held perception that Israel has eyes and ears everywhere in the small, densely populated territory it has controlled for decades.
The presence of hostages in Gaza complicates Israel's response. Israel has a history of making very lopsided trades to bring captive Israelis home.
An Egyptian official said Israel sought help from Cairo to ensure the safety of the hostages. Egypt also spoke with both sides about a possible ceasefire, but Israel was not open to a truce "at this stage," according to the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to brief the media.
Elsewhere, six Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers on Sunday in the West Bank.
Over the past year, Israel's far-right government has stepped up settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. Israeli settler violence has displaced hundreds of Palestinians there, and tensions have erupted around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a holy place in Jerusalem .