IDF launches retaliatory strikes on Gaza

Gaza terrorists launch surprise attack on Israel with rocket barrages and infiltrations

Gunmen infiltrate Sderot, other communities; over 200 killed, 1,100 wounded; IDF declares ‘state of war,’ calls up reserves; 2,200 rockets fired, including at Tel Aviv, Dimona, J’lem

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A rocket fired from Gaza into southern Israel hits Ashkelon, October 7, 2023 (Edi Israel/Flash90)
A rocket fired from Gaza into southern Israel hits Ashkelon, October 7, 2023 (Edi Israel/Flash90)

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip launched massive rocket barrages at southern and central Israel on Saturday morning, combined with an assault by dozens of gunmen who infiltrated the border town of Sderot and other communities, clashing with Israel Defense Force troops.

At least 200 Israelis were killed and over 1,100 wounded, according to medical officials, and Hamas claimed to have captured dozens of Israelis, including soldiers. Nearly 200 Palestinians were reported killed in Israeli retaliatory strikes.

The unprecedented surprise attack by terrorists in the Gaza Strip started at around 6:30 a.m. as Israelis celebrated the last day of the weeklong Sukkot festival with hundreds of rockets fired at Israel. It came a day after Israel and the Arab world marked the 50th anniversary of the surprise attack by Egypt and Syria that launched the Yom Kippur War.

This attack, too, appeared to catch Israel completely by surprise. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country was “at war.”

“Citizens of Israel, we are at war,” he said. “And we will win.”

“The enemy will pay a price like they have never known before,” he said, in his first public statement on the matter, some five hours after the start of the assault by the Gaza-based terror group.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant rushed to Tel Aviv to consult with security chiefs. Netanyahu also took part.

The IDF said it was moving to a “state of war” and Gallant authorized a widespread call-up of reserves. The IDF was expected to draft tens of thousands of reservists.

Throughout Saturday, the IDF said it struck multiple terrorist squads in southern Israel, as well as several sites belonging to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The sites targeted by Israeli Air Force fighter jets and drones included 17 military compounds, four headquarters, and two high-rise towers the IDF said were used to house Hamas assets.

The military said it notified residents of the two buildings before they were hit.

IAF fighter jets dropped more than 16 tons of munitions on Hamas assets in the Strip, according to a military source.

Gallant also declared an emergency situation within a range of 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the Gaza Strip.

Israeli soldiers head south near Ashkelon, Israel, Israel, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The “special situation” allows the military’s Home Front Command to restrict gatherings and close off areas, including the major cities of Tel Aviv and Beersheba.

The IDF Home Front Command later announced it is canceling schools in central and southern Israel, meaning roughly 1 million children will stay home on Sunday.

All schools south of Netanya and north of the central Negev were to be closed and businesses can only be opened if there is ready access to bomb shelters, the military said.

Gatherings were also restricted to 10 people outdoors and 50 people indoors in those areas, the Home Front Command said.

The restrictions were to last till Sunday at 6 p.m., but will likely be extended further amid the fighting.

Earlier Saturday, the IDF said Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi was holding an assessment and approving plans of action.

Israeli firefighters extinguish fire after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a parking lot in Ashkelon, Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

“Hamas… which is behind this attack, will bear the results and responsibility for the events,” the IDF said.

“Hamas carried out a combined operation that included firing rockets and a terrorist infiltration into the territory of the State of Israel,” the IDF said.

“The IDF will protect the residents of the State of Israel.”

Rockets are fired from Gaza City towards Israel on October 7, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Gallant vowed Israel “will win this war.”

Two hours after the first rockets, the IDF began launching strikes on Gaza.

Later, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters that more than 2,200 rockets fired into Israel since 6:30 a.m. and that the IDF had launched operation “Swords of Iron” in response to Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel.

The Hamas terrorists infiltrated from land, sea and air. There were at least seven sites of fighting between Hamas terrorists and IDF troops, and battles were ongoing.

Hamas published videos showing the capture of several soldiers and civilians, some of them dead. Arabic media said 52 Israelis had been taken back to Gaza.

The IDF would not comment yet on reports that soldiers or civilians had been abducted.

IAF fighter jets dropped more than 16 tons of munitions on Hamas assets in the Strip, according to a military source.

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip said 198 Palestinians were killed and another 1,610 were wounded as of Saturday afternoon.

Several battalions from the standing army were deployed to the Gaza border, as the military focused most of its efforts on fighting Hamas terrorists still in Israeli territory.

The Red Alert warning sirens were activated in Tel Aviv, some 70 kilometers from the Gaza Strip, as well as Sde Boker, Arad and Dimona in the south, also more than 70 kilometers away. Later rockets were fired toward Jerusalem.

Explosions were heard by residents across these areas and direct hits on buildings were reported in Ashkelon, the Gederot region and Tel Aviv.

Smoke rises after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a house in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Footage has shown armed Palestinians driving trucks and opening fire in Sderot. Another clip purported to show a hang glider near the Gaza border.

A number of casualties have been reported. It is unclear how many terrorists infiltrated into the country.

Unverified footage from the Gaza Strip purported to show Hamas terrorists with the body of an IDF soldier taken from Israel during the attack.

The graphic videos showed the body being taken out of a truck, as a crowd swarms around it, trampling the body and shouting “God is Great.” Another video appeared to show Palestinian terrorists dragging away a live Israeli soldier on a motorcycle.

Other videos showed a crowd of Palestinian men dancing around and atop an Israeli tank that was on fire, and some clips purported to show Israeli civilians captured by the terror group.

The authenticity of the videos could not immediately be verified.

Palestinians take control of an Israeli tank after crossing the border fence with Israel from Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)

A resident of Kibbutz Be’eri said that terrorists were on the streets of the small town near the Gaza border.

Dvir Efrat told Channel 12 that she did not dare raise her voice above a whisper and that she was barricaded in her home with a knife.

“I can hear gunfire,” she said.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service said that 40 people were killed in the attacks. Statements from various hospitals said some 779 people were being treated for various injuries. Dozens of them were listed in serious condition.

A residential building in Tel Aviv is damaged following a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip into Israel on October 7, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

MDA said a woman in her 60s was killed in a rocket attack in the Gderot area.

The mayor of Kuseife, Abd al-Aziz Nassara, told the Kan public broadcaster that there were at least four dead and several more wounded as a result of a number of rocket impacts in the town.

Kuseife, a Bedouin town in southern Israel, is located some 65 kilometers from the Gaza Strip.

The head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, Ofir Libstein, was killed during fighting with Hamas terrorists this morning, local authorities said.

“Ofir was killed when he went to defend a town during the terrorist attack,” the council said.

The deputy head of the council, Yossi Keren, was currently filling his place.

The Israeli military called on residents of southern and central Israel to remain close to bomb shelters amid the massive barrage.

“The public in the south and center of the country are urged to stay near protected areas and follow the instructions of the Home Front Command,” the IDF said in an announcement early Saturday.

In one video from Ashkelon circulating on social media, large black plumes of smoke from fires can be seen from a suspected impact site.

Hamas said it had launched 5,000 rockets at Israel in an early morning surprise attack it called “Operation Al-Aqsa Deluge.”

Mohammad Deif, the shadowy Hamas military commander, issued a statement saying that the ongoing attacks are in retaliation for Israel’s “desecration” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

He added that Israel had killed and wounded hundreds of Palestinians this year, and that Israel had rejected offers for prisoner exchange deals.

Over 5,000 missiles were fired by Gazans, Deif claimed.

“Today, the people are bringing back the revolution and reviving the March of Return,” he said.

He urged Arabs in Jerusalem and inside Israel, in the Negev, the Galilee and northern Israel to “set the earth on fire under the feet of the occupiers.”

Smoke rises after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit in Ashdod, southern Israel, October 7, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

He further called on the “Islamic resistance in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon” — countries with terror movements that are militarily supported by Iran — to “merge their resistance with that of the Palestinians today,” and “start marching towards Palestine now.”

Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of Hamas who is considered to be its leader in the West Bank, issued a statement along the same lines, calling on the Arab and Islamic nations to join “Operation Al-Aqsa Deluge.”

The Temple Mount is revered by Jews as the historic location of the two Jewish Temples, making it Judaism’s holiest site. It is also the third-holiest for Muslims, who refer to it as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound or the Noble Sanctuary.

Provocations and violence at the site have frequently turned into wider conflagrations.

The attacks from Gaza came after weeks of heightened tensions along Israel’s volatile border with Gaza, and deadly clashes in the West Bank.

The Hamas terror group seized control of the territory in 2007. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since then. There have also been numerous rounds of smaller fighting between Israel and Hamas and other smaller terror groups based in Gaza.

Israelis sit in a bomb shelter in Mishmar David, central Israel, as a barrage of rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into south and central Israel, on October 7, 2023. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Violence has surged across the West Bank over the past year and a half, with a rise in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israeli civilians and troops, near-nightly arrest raids by the military, and an uptick in revenge attacks by extremist Jewish settlers against Palestinians.

Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank since the beginning of the year have left 27 civilians and three soldiers dead, and several others seriously wounded.

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 194 West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians have been killed during the same period — the majority during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed in unclear circumstances, including by armed Israeli settlers.

The tensions have also spread to Gaza, where Hamas-linked activists held violent demonstrations along the Israeli border in recent weeks. Those demonstrations were halted in late September after international mediation.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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