More than 200 Israelis were killed and 1,000 injured after the biggest assault on the country for years. Thousands of rockets were fired, fences smashed with bulldozers and heavily armed extremists attacked using paragliders.
The Israeli Defence Force intercepted at least four boats off the coast, including two speedboats, with dozens of terrorists onboard.
It is feared hundreds more Israelis, both military and civilian, are now being held hostage.
As Hamas urged Israel’s enemies to join its attack, the country’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netan-yahu, hit back with devastating airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.
Declaring a mass mobilisation of his forces, he addressed the nation: “We are at war. Not an ‘operation’, not a ‘round’, but at war.”
“The enemy will pay an unprecedented price,” he said, vowing Israel would “return fire of a magnitude the enemy has not known”.
He said Israel will take “mighty vengeance for this black day”.
PM Rishi Sunak condemned the attacks and President Joe Biden warned Hamas “our support for Israel’s security is unwavering”.
Mr Sunak said he was “shocked” by the attacks, adding, “Israel has an absolute right to defend itself.”
The first victim of the attacks is believed to a local mayor who was defending his town. Ofir Liebstein, the head of Sha’ar Hanegev Council, was killed in a firefight.
Israel has named its response Operation Iron Swords. Airstrikes levelled tower blocks in Gaza yesterday and residents were braced for a full-scale land invasion.
Hamas’s dawn terror assault began with a heavy barrage of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip towards Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Hamas said more than 7,000 rockets were fired. In context, only around 4,000 were fired from Gaza into Israel during the entire 50-day war in 2014
In a co-ordinated attack Hamas militants took to boats and motorised paragliders to cross the
border and reach the Israeli town of Sderot where gun battles were heard. Fighting was also taking place in other Israeli towns.
Jerusalem Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai warned of an “unprecedented level of infiltration” by militants with “21 active fronts in the south”.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog accused Hamas of the “cold blooded murder of innocent men, women, and children’’.
More than 40 Israelis lost
their lives in the initial assaults, according to emergency services, while Palestinian authorities said more than 200 were later killed in Israeli retaliatory air strikes.
Despite coming a day after the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, where Arab forces attacked Israeli positions on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, the attacks seemed to have taken Israeli defence forces by surprise.
Military chiefs responded by deploying fighter jets and launching strikes into Gaza.
Speaking from Tel Aviv, author Gideon Levy said: “When the first rockets fell, I was still jogging in the park. The noise was terrible. I don’t remember Tel Aviv in this situation for many years. The streets are empty. Restaurants, cafes, everything is locked down.
“There is a heavy feeling of surprise, of shock and of fear of what is still expected to happen.”
Hamas deputy chief Saleh Al Arouri boasted of capturing 50 hostages in Be’eri kibbutz near the Gaza border, “among them senior officers”. Hamas circulated video footage showing a destroyed Israeli tank and videos of what it said were the bodies of Israeli soldiers brought into Gaza by fighters. Israeli settlers spoke of their horror as they hid in safe rooms and bunkers.
And last night a British woman now living in Israel told how her family in Be’er kibbutz have been “hiding in bushes” after Hamas terrorists torched their home in an attempt to smoke them out.
“We are desperately waiting for news of my sister-in-law and her four kids,” Emma Segev, 50, said.
“They told us that Hamas were outside their door and they could hear Arabic and gunshots but now things have gone silent. Last thing we heard, their house was on fire. They were tipped off about the attack and hid in their panic room but Hamas set their house alight.
“The heat in the room got so intense they thought they would be burned alive and fled. I don’t know how they got out but they are hiding in the bushes.
“Two elderly ladies have been kidnapped as well as teenagers who were attending a rave and were taken hostage.
“Hamas took six teenagers back to Gaza and we think Hamas are going to hold them to ransom.
“My friend in Sderot says she can see terrorists right now walking past their home. She is petrified that they will come in.”
Shocking footage showed hostages – including an elderly grandmother – being carried away by militants in golf carts.
Mohammed Deif, Hamas’s military commander in Gaza, said the operation is aimed at “freeing” Jerusalem’s sensitive al-Aqsa mosque compound. It followed reports of thousands of Israeli settlers entering the holy site, under protection of Israeli forces, during the religious holiday of Sukkot, which ended on Friday.
Deif said: “I call on Palestinians everywhere in the West Bank and within the Green Line [Israeli territory] to launch an attack without restraint. Go to all the streets.
“If you have a gun, get it out. This is the time to use trucks, cars, axes. Today the best and most honourable history starts.”
Police chief Mr Shabtai said: “We are in a state of war, a complex attack in the area
around Gaza, and the towns in southern Israel. Right now there are 22 active fronts in the south.”
UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said: “I appeal to all to pull back from the brink.”
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