Israel on Saturday evening confirmed that the Hamas terror group had taken civilians and soldiers as hostages to the Gaza Strip in its massive assault on the country’s south, amid reports that dozens of people may have been taken, dead and alive.
The Israel Defense Forces’ top spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, confirmed in a briefing with reporters that people had been taken into the Strip. Hagari said Israeli soldiers had also been killed in the fighting.
No numbers were given for hostages or soldiers killed.
Hagari said there were still 22 locations of ongoing fighting in southern Israel, including hostage situations in Be’eri and Ofakim. He said Israeli troops had reached all towns on the Gaza border, and were working to scan each and every one.
Four divisions were being deployed to the Gaza border, joining 31 battalions that were already there, Hagari said.
Earlier, Hamas published footage showing its members capturing a number of Israeli soldiers during an attack on a military base on the border.
The Gaza-based terror group launched an unprecedented assault on Israel in the morning, firing thousands of rockets and sending gunmen into Israeli communities by land, sea and air, killing at least 200 people and injuring over 1,400 by Saturday evening. The toll was expected to rise.
The multi-pronged attack, coming a day after Israel marked the 50th anniversary of the surprise invasion on Yom Kippur, caught the Israeli military and security forces completely by surprise.
Hamas gunmen overran at least one military base and gunmen moved through Israeli border communities, killing and capturing residents, apparently with little resistance from Israeli forces, residents said.
Other clips circulated online have purported to show Israeli civilians taken hostage by the terror group. Arabic media claimed 52 Israelis had been captured. Some of those captured appeared to have been killed.
The military declined to give specific details about casualties or kidnappings as it continued to battle the infiltrators.
Social media was replete with videos of Hamas fighters parading what appeared to be stolen Israeli military vehicles, including a tank, through the streets and at least one dead Israeli soldier within Gaza being dragged and trampled by an angry crowd of Palestinians shouting “God is Great.”
The Magen David Adom rescue service said two of its ambulances had been captured and at least one medic was killed.
Six hours after the invasion began, Hamas terrorists were still fighting gun battles inside at least seven Israeli communities and an army base, in a surprising show of strength that shook the country.
The infiltration of fighters into southern Israel marked a major accomplishment — and escalation — by Hamas that forced millions of Israelis to hunker down in safe rooms, sheltering from rocket explosions and ongoing gun battles with Hamas fighters. Cities and towns emptied as the military closed roads near Gaza.
“We understand that this is something big,” Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli army spokesman, told reporters. He said the Israeli military had called up the army reserves.
Hecht declined to comment on how Hamas had managed to catch the army off guard. “That’s a good question,” he said.
Israel has built a massive fence along the Gaza border meant to prevent infiltrations. It goes deep underground and is equipped with cameras, high-tech sensors and sensitive listening technology.
The Ynet news site reported that the security forces were examining if recent riots along the Gaza border were actually a cover for terrorists to place explosives that were used to breach the barrier.
Images posted online showed the barrier completely breached in several points, with Hamas vehicles driving through unhindered.
— החדשות – N12 (@N12News) October 7, 2023
Residents of communities along the border described their terror and continued to plead for help and report on shooting by terrorists inside kibbutzim and other residential areas, while often saying there was little or no IDF presence on the streets.
A resident of Kibbutz Be’eri told Channel 12 news that her father was kidnapped from a southern border community by Hamas terrorists and taken to the Gaza Strip.
“He messaged me that they were in the house,” she said, through tears. “He told me they were taking him,” she said, adding that she saw pictures of him in Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country was at war and vowed to exact an “unprecedented price from Hamas.”
The military’s liaison to the Palestinians threatened Hamas with a harsh response: “Hamas opened the gates of hell on the Gaza Strip, Hamas made the decision and Hamas will bear the responsibility and pay the price,” said Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
Israel has responded very forcefully in the past to the capture of soldiers and civilians.
In 2006, it launched a massive attack on Lebanon, including an invasion of ground forces, after the Hezbollah terror group killed and captured three Israeli soldiers.
Hamas sees Israeli prisoners as the best way to extract concessions from Israel.
In 2011, Israel exchanged 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners for soldier Gilad Shalit who was captured in a cross-border attack in 2006.
However, in recent years Israel has been more hesitant about such major prisoner swaps. Hamas has been holding the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and two live civilians.
Following reports on the capture of soldiers and civilians, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for the immediate release of any Israeli hostages.
“News of civilians taken as hostages in their homes or to Gaza are appalling,” Borrell wrote on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.
“This is against international law,” he wrote. “Hostages must be released immediately.”