Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to bring the full force of the Israeli military against the Gaza Strip’s Hamas terror group Saturday night, warning Israelis of tough days ahead as the nation retaliates for a shocking surprise attack that has left hundreds dead and turned sleepy border towns into a war zone.
“The Israel Defense Forces will act immediately to destroy Hamas’s capabilities,” Netanyahu said in a televised address, as terrorists were still holed up with hostages in at least three locations inside Israel. “We will cripple them mercilessly and avenge this black day they have brought upon Israel and its citizens.”
“Residents of Gaza, get out now. We will be everywhere and with all our might,” he added, as thousands of reserves troops made their way to military bases for a widely expected counteroffensive.
The premier spoke some 16 hours after hundreds of Hamas terrorists infiltrated into Israel from Gaza, invading towns and kibbutzim near the Strip, killing at least 250 people, many of them civilians, wounding over 1,500 and apparently taking dozens hostage. Thousands of rockets from Gaza pounded the south and areas as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the unprecedented attack, which caught Israel completely off-guard as it celebrated the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.
“This is an enemy that murders children and mothers in their homes, in their beds. An enemy that kidnaps the elderly, kids, youths. Murderers who massacre and slaughter our citizens, our kids, who just wanted to have fun on the holiday,” Netanyahu said. “What happened today has never before seen in Israel, and I will make sure it does not happen again.”
Slamming his fists down and injecting his words with fury, Netanyahu vowed that Israel would “win this war,” but warned of a heavy cost, hinting at a likely ground incursion.
“This war will take time. It will be hard. We have tough days ahead of us,” he said.
Accusing Hamas of launching a “cruel and evil war,” the premier said that US President Joe Biden and other world leaders he had spoken with had “promised Israel would have freedom of action to continue this battle.”
He did not mention discussions he’d held with opposition leaders to form an emergency unity government but noted his entire cabinet, made up primarily of hardliners who have long pushed for wider action against Gaza, stood behind the decision to hit back hard.
“Any place Hamas deploys, in this evil city, all the places Hamas is hiding, operating — we will turn it into a ruin,” he said.
Hours later, after huddling with ministers and security chiefs, Netanyahu said in a separate message that Israel was “embarking on a long and difficult war” that was “forced upon us by a murderous attack by Hamas.”
The first phase of the war, he wrote on X, involves “destroying most of the enemy forces” that infiltrated into Israel.
Israel has also begun an offensive into Gaza “and it will continue without hesitation and without respite – until the goals are achieved,” the premier said.
“We will restore security to the citizens of Israel and we will win,” he writes.
Netanyahu spoke as battles were still taking place inside Israel, with security forces struggling to locate an unknown number of terrorists who had overrun cities, agricultural communities and army bases early in the morning. In Sderot, a bulldozer rammed a police station where at least one terrorist was thought to be hiding, and pops of gunfire continued to echo through the city, with residents hiding inside and bodies on the streets.
Gunbattles or hostage standoffs were also reportedly taking place in Kibbutz Be’eri, Kibbutz Kfar Aza and Ofakim.
Complicating the plans to “set Gaza back 50 years,” as threatened by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, were dozens of people thought to have been kidnapped and taken into Gaza by Hamas terrorists, both alive and dead.
“Israel will avenge anyone who is harmed,” Gallant warned the terror group, “in so much as a hair on their head.” Israel has responded very forcefully in the past to the capture of soldiers and civilians.
Earlier, 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. The military carried out a number of strikes against Hamas sites in Gaza, taking down a high-rise building in the process.
Delivering a televised statement an hour before Netanyahu’s remarks, Biden promised Israel “rock solid” support.
“Israel has the right to defend itself and its people, full stop. There’s never justification for terrorist attacks and my administration’s support for Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering.”
Hebrew media reports put the number of dead from the day’s attacks at 250 or more, with at least 1,590 wounded, many seriously, according to the Health Ministry.
At least 232 people in the Gaza Strip have been killed and at least 1,700 wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, many of them apparently in Israeli strikes.