Israeli security forces made headway early Sunday toward regaining control of the towns and areas held by Hamas terrorists who infiltrated 24 hours earlier, as the country reeled from one of the darkest days in its history, which saw an unprecedented onslaught on the southern communities with over 350 killed, over 1,800 wounded and apparently dozens kidnapped and taken into the Gaza Strip.
On Sunday morning, over 24 hours after the coordinated assault began, Israeli security forces were still struggling to clear terrorist cells entrenched within devastated communities.
Many civilians were still holed up in their homes, hiding in fear of roving terrorists searching for victims, as troops dealt with some hostage-takers and stormed homes and facilities, shooting the Palestinian gunmen within.
All known hostage situations, which saw Israeli civilians held captive by Hamas gunmen in their towns, were resolved overnight, with army and police forces killing terrorists and rescuing their captives after hours-long standoffs in Sderot, Ofakim and Kibbutz Be’eri, where full control was declared.
However, gunfights were continuing in some communities, such as Kfar Aza, Re’im and likely Erez and Zikim as well.
The Israeli Navy said it killed five Palestinian terrorists hiding on Zikim beach on Sunday morning, close to the border with the Gaza Strip.
“In the last few hours, Navy control units identified five terrorists who were hiding in the Zikim area, in Israeli territory,” the military said.
Footage published by the Israel Defense Forces showed sailors of the 916th Patrol Squadron opening fire at the suspects in the area.
לוחמי זרוע הים סיכלו חמישה מחבלים במרחב חוף זיקים.
בקריות השליטה של חיל הים זיהו בשעות האחרונות חמישה מחבלים שהסתתרו במרחב זיקים שבשטח בישראל.
לוחמי חיל הים סיכלו את המחבלים ומנעו חדירה ליישובים.
תיעוד בו לוחמי חיל הים סיכלו מחבלים הלילה במרחב זיקים: pic.twitter.com/DEO17AltUe
— צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) October 8, 2023
The Health Ministry said 1,854 people were injured, 19 of them in critical condition, 326 in serious condition, and 359 in moderate condition. A further 821 had light injuries, 20 suffered anxiety, and 223 were being medically assessed.
The IDF on Sunday named 26 soldiers killed in the fighting since Saturday morning.
IDF publishes the names of 26 soldiers killed in the fighting on the Gaza border pic.twitter.com/rmXdC6qp7H
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) October 8, 2023
IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told media on Sunday morning that the military was seeking to “stabilize the situation in the Gaza envelope” and that most incident locations had been “neutralized.”
Hagari said that sweeps for terrorists were still being carried out in Sderot, Zikim, Re’im, and Sufa.
As of Sunday morning, the IDF retook control at 29 locations, he said.
“There are hundreds of dead terrorists. There are dozens of terrorists captured,” Hagari said.
He added that in the coming hours, residents of communities close to the Gaza Strip will be evacuated.
Hagari said that during the night “we gradually evacuated” residents from some of the communities where terrorists had infiltrated and that there are now “tens of thousands” of Israeli combat soldiers in the area. “Hundreds of thousands” of reservist soldiers have been called up.
IDF airstrikes hit 426 targets in Gaza, he said, including tunnels, Hamas and Islamic Jihad infrastructure, and high-rise buildings housing Hamas assets. One hundred “immediate threats” were countered, he said, and hundreds of Hamas launch sites were bombed. Hundreds of tons of munitions were used in the strikes.
Artillery strikes were to follow the aerial bombing, he said.
In addition to the fight inside Israeli territory, Hagari said forces “keep attacking dozens of terrorists on the [border] fence.”
A call center for missing soldiers will be opened.
“There are commanders and soldiers who were killed in battles,” Hagari said.
Further afield, he said the military was watching the northern areas, a reference to Lebanon, where the Hezbollah terror group is a constant threat.
The warning was borne out shortly after the briefing, when mortars were fired over the border from Lebanon in an attack later claimed by Hezbollah.
Footage shows mortars fired from Lebanon landing in the Mount Dov area pic.twitter.com/qoVK9aEw3X
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) October 8, 2023
In addition, Hagari said forces have been readied in the West Bank and in the north.
“We went through a very difficult day in the war,” Hagari said of Saturday’s events. “There were heroic actions by commanders, some of whom fell in combat. We still do not know the exact number of the abducted. We will know it in the next few hours.”
He said the goals for the coming 12 hours are to fully gain control of the area around the Gaza Strip and kill any remaining terrorists in Israel.
All Hamas government sites will be attacked, he said.
Rocket attacks from Gaza persisted overnight toward southern communities, as the military conducted repeated strikes on what it said were Hamas targets in the Strip, with online footage showing a multi-story building collapsing in Gaza City, apparently the Al-Watan tower.
In an assault of startling breadth, Hamas gunmen rolled into as many as 22 locations in southern Israel on Saturday morning, including towns and other communities as far as 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the Gaza border. In some places, they roamed for hours, gunning down civilians and soldiers as Israel’s military scrambled to muster a response.
The Israel Defense Forces was engaged in a massive build-up of forces in preparation for a military response the country’s leaders vowed would be unprecedented, with the army carrying out strikes on terror targets across the Strip throughout the day. Gaza health officials said at least 230 were killed there, with hundreds wounded.
The army said four divisions of reservists were being deployed to the Gaza border, joining 35 battalions that were already there.
Early Sunday morning, Hebrew media reported that security forces had managed to rescue 48 civilians held captive for hours in the dining hall of Kibbutz Be’eri, and had killed around 10 Palestinian terrorists in a gun battle.
Some Hebrew media reports said Israeli forces were still working to clear the kibbutz of terrorists and that exchanges of gunfire were being heard.
Also overnight, Israeli forces stormed a home in Ofakim and rescued two Israelis, a couple in their 60s, who had been held captive in their own apartment for 16 hours.
Reports said that four or five terrorists were killed, and that three special police officers from the Yamam unit were injured, including one seriously.
The man and woman had been in “mortal fear,” Eyal Korem, the couple’s nephew, told the Maariv news site.
“We observe Shabbat, and we found out about the incident when relatives arrived at my parents’ home and told them terrorists had infiltrated their home. We were in crazy anxiety, we started fearing that, God forbid, they had already been killed or harmed,” Korem said, adding that the couple was rescued in good health.
A short while later, Israeli police forces regained control of a Sderot police station where Palestinian terrorists who infiltrated from Gaza had been holed up, following an hours-long standoff.
At least 10 terrorists were killed at that scene, police said.
Border Police Commander Amir Cohen praised the Sderot operation, saying Israeli forces including Border Police anti-terror forces and military troops “acted throughout the last day with great courage and determination.”
“We are in a difficult time,” said Cohen, “but now we raise our heads and continue to act with determination and… strength against any threat to provide security to the citizens.”
Cohen said instructions were in place for residents of the area to stay indoors, not go outside and call emergency services if they need help.
“There are large forces of police, Border Police and IDF and we will continue to provide ongoing security and respond to incidents quickly,” he said.
The death toll from the day’s events continued to rise by the hour and as of Sunday morning stood at 300 people, many of them civilians slain in their homes and in the streets, as well as at a large outdoor rave targeted by the terrorists.
Channel 12 news reported that dozens of bodies were removed from the site of the party near Kibbutz Re’im where people were massacred and others fled the scene in panic. The scenes of chaos that erupted there were some of the first and most disturbing images to be published amid the assault. Eyewitnesses said gunfire tore into the crowd even as hundreds of partygoers attempted to flee. Some hid for hours in woodland and orchards before being extracted by security forces.
The bodies were being taken for the beginning of the process of identifying the victims.
Meanwhile, a continuous stream of Palestinian photos and videos flooded social media depicting scenes of carnage from within the towns as well as harrowing footage of frightened men, women and children dragged from their homes to an uncertain fate in Gaza. The IDF confirmed that soldiers and civilians had been taken hostage but did not specify a number.
Dozens of relatives of missing people streamed overnight to a center for missing persons operated by the police and the Home Front Command near the airport.
Relatives were told to bring items like toothbrushes and other personal belongings of their missing loved ones to help provide DNA samples that could help identify whether they were among the dead.
Police had called for families to contact the center with photos and DNA samples of missing persons. Those who are located in areas where they are not able to leave their homes were asked to call 105 with details and to go to a police station when possible.
One father of a woman who has gone missing told Ynet: “There is nothing more to do, wait for a miracle from God.”
The scenes of chaos and suffering and the prolonged failure to gain control of the situation shocked and outraged the nation, and sparked pointed questions and demands for answers on the many failures of intelligence, deployment and policy that had enabled such a national catastrophe, with hundreds of terrorists flooding civilian communities in armed convoys.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was at war, as he discussed the potential formation of an emergency government with leaders of the opposition but was said to refuse the latter’s demand to first boot far-right parties that currently make up his hard-right coalition.
In an address to the nation at night, the premier vowed to use “all the power” of the IDF to destroy Hamas’s capabilities, and told Gaza’s residents to “get out now.”
Calling the day’s events something “never before seen in Israel,” he promised to ensure “it will never happen again.”
“Hamas wants to murder us all,” Netanyahu said, “murdering children and mothers in their homes, in their beds. It is an enemy that kidnaps elderly people, children, young girls,” an enemy “that massacres and slaughters our civilians, our children, who simply wanted to enjoy the holiday.”