WATCH: Israel declares state of war after Hamas launches surprise attack with infiltration, rocket barrages
Palestinian gunmen have infiltrated areas of southern Israel and rocket barrages were launched from the Gaza Strip on Saturday in a surprise attack claimed by the Islamist movement Hamas.
In a surprise attack claimed by the Islamist movement Hamas, Palestinian gunmen infiltrated areas of southern Israel, launching rocket barrages from the Gaza Strip on Saturday.
Mohammad Deif, a senior Hamas military commander, officially announced the start of the operation through a broadcast on Hamas media. He called upon Palestinians everywhere to join the fight, declaring it as the day to end the "last occupation on earth" and stating that 5,000 rockets had been launched.
Emergency services reported the tragic death of one Israeli woman as ambulance crews were deployed in regions surrounding the Gaza Strip. Sirens rang out across Israel, including in Jerusalem. Israeli media also reported that gunmen had opened fire on passersby in the town of Sderot in southern Israel. Footage circulated on social media appeared to depict clashes in city streets.
The Israeli military issued a statement acknowledging that "a number of terrorists have infiltrated into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip." Residents in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip were advised to remain in their homes. The statement further emphasized the Israeli Defense Forces' commitment to defending Israeli civilians and warned that the Hamas terrorist organization would face severe consequences for its actions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office confirmed that he would convene with top security officials in the coming hours to address the situation.
In Gaza, the sound of rocket launches could be heard, and residents reported armed clashes along the separation fence with Israel, particularly near the southern town of Khan Younis. There were also reports of significant movement among armed fighters.
Israel's ambulance service dispatched teams to areas in southern Israel near Gaza, while residents were cautioned to stay indoors and take precautions.
IDF declares 'state of war'
In a statement on X, formerly Twitter, the Israel Defence Forces said, "The IDF declares a state of war alert. In the last hour, the Hamas terrorist organization had begun a massive shooting of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, and terrorists infiltrated into Israeli territory in a number of different locations."
"Civilians in the southern and central areas are required to stay next to shelters, and in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip, inside shelters. The Chief of the General staff is currently conducting a situational assesment and approves plans for the continuation of the IDF activity. The Hamas terrorist organization is the sovereign in the Gaza Strip and is responsible for this attack. It will face the consequences and responsibility for these events," the IDF spokesperson added.
The conflict stems from Israel's imposition of a crippling blockade on Gaza since 2007, following the Hamas militant group's rise to power. This blockade has led to several devastating wars between Palestinian militants and Israel.
The recent rocket attacks come after a period of heightened tensions in September when Israel closed the border to Gazan workers for two weeks. During this time, Palestinian protests at the heavily-militarized border involved burning tires, throwing rocks, and petrol bombs at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas and live ammunition. Critics argued that the border closure amounted to collective punishment against thousands of Palestinian workers, who have better employment opportunities in Israel than in Gaza, where unemployment is rampant.
The resumption of passage on September 28 had raised hopes of calming the situation in Gaza, a densely populated area home to 2.3 million people. However, in May, an exchange of Israeli airstrikes and Gaza rocket fire resulted in the deaths of 34 Palestinians and one Israeli.
So far this year, there have been at least 247 Palestinian fatalities, 32 Israeli fatalities, and two foreigner fatalities in the conflict, including both combatants and civilians on both sides, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials. The majority of these casualties have occurred in the West Bank, an area occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict.
In recent times, there has been an increase in army raids, Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis, and Israeli settler violence against Palestinians and their property. Notably, several far-right Israeli ministers reside in settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law.