Gun battles raged on Sunday between Hamas fighters and Israeli forces a day after the Palestinian group launched a surprise attack on Israel from Gaza.
The conflict’s bloodiest escalation in decades saw Hamas carry out a massive rocket barrage and ground, air and sea offensive on Saturday. The death toll in the Gaza Strip rose to 370 and another 2,200 were injured, the health ministry in the Palestinian enclave said today.
According to the Israel government, the death toll in the country has surged to over 600 while over 100 people were being held as “prisoners” by the Palestinian group.
The death toll “is not a final number”, an Israeli official told AFP, adding that more than 2,000 people had been wounded including 200 who were in “critical condition”.
As fighting raged on Sunday, Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement said it had fired “large numbers of artillery shells and guided missiles” at Israeli positions in a contested border areas “in solidarity” with Hamas, while in Alexandria, two Israeli tourists were shot dead along with their Egyptian guide.
Overnight Israel attacked the Gaza Strip with air strikes as rockets from the blockaded Palestinians territory rained on Israel. In southern Israel, Hamas fighters were still fighting Israeli security forces 24 hours after the surprise attack.
Israeli air strikes hit housing blocks, tunnels, a mosque and homes of Hamas officials in Gaza, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed “mighty vengeance for this wicked day”.
“We are embarking on a long and difficult war that was forced on us by a murderous Hamas attack,” Netanyahu said on X, formerly Twitter, early on Sunday.
Israel’s military said it had deployed tens of thousands of soldiers around Gaza and was starting to evacuate all Israelis living around the frontier of the territory.
“This is my fifth war. The war should stop. I don’t want to keep feeling this,” said Qassab al-Attar, a disabled Palestinian in Gaza whose brothers carried him to shelter when Israeli forces shelled their house.
Sunday morning gun still battles raged between Israeli forces and hundreds of Hamas fighters in multiple locations, including at the Sderot police station across the border from Gaza.
Iran’s president speaks to Hamas, Islamic Jihad leaders
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has spoken with leaders of Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, official media said today.
“Raisi discussed the developments in Palestine in separate phone calls with Ziyad al-Nakhalah, secretary general of the Islamic Jihad Movement, and Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the (Hamas) political bureau,” state news agency IRNA reported, without giving further details.
‘Time has come to move forward in line with UN resolutions’
Meanwhile, President Arif Alvi said on Sunday morning that “progress towards peace cannot materialise without condemnation of usurpation and brutalisation of Palestinian rights and people by Israel”.
“Continuous annexation of land, illegal settlements, disproportionate reactions and killings. The result is no hope and no progress towards peace. Time has come to move forward in line with UN resolutions. International community can play a big role today towards world peace,” he said.
Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani said that Pakistan was “deeply concerned by the escalating hostility in the Middle East and the loss of innocent lives”.
“We stand in solidarity with Palestinians and call for an immediate end to the violence and oppression by Israeli occupation forces. A viable and sovereign state of Palestine must be established on the basis of pre-1967 borders and UN resolutions,” he said.
Jilani said the international community needed to intervene to “bring an end to the conflict, protect civilians, and work towards a lasting peace in the Middle East”.
US to give details on military support for Israel: Blinken
The United States, a close ally and major supplier of arms to Israel, could announce later Sunday new military support for the country following the Hamas attack, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
“We’re looking at specific additional requests that the Israelis have made. I think you’re likely to hear more about that later today,” Blinken told CNN.
“President (Joe) Biden’s direction was to make sure that we’re providing Israel everything it needs in this moment to deal with the attacks from Hamas.”
Earlier, US President Joe Biden voiced “rock solid and unwavering” support for the US ally and warned “against any other party hostile to Israel seeking advantage in this situation”.
Biden spoke by phone to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday to offer US support, with scenes of violence playing out on American news networks. The two leaders have had strained relations but met in New York last month in a show of solidarity.
“I made clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu that we stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the government and people of Israel,” Biden said in a written statement issued after their call.
In his televised remarks later, Biden issued a blunt warning.
“Israel has a right to defend itself and its people — full stop,” he said. “Let me say this as clearly as I can. This is not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks to seek advantage. The world is watching.”
The United States has been seeking a deal to normalise ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, seen by Israelis as the biggest prize yet in their decades-long quest for Arab recognition. Palestinians fear any such agreement could sell out their dreams of an independent state.
British citizen killed in Hamas attack
A British man who was serving in the Israeli army died in the attack by Hamas fighter, his has family said, as another man was reported missing.
Nathanel Young, 20, “was killed on the Gaza border yesterday” a family Facebook post said.
Young, who was originally from north London, had been living in accommodation for Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers in Raanana, north of Tel Aviv, the Jewish News added.
A second British national “is in Gaza” following kidnappings by Hamas, the country’s ambassador to Britain said.
“I know there is one British citizen who is in Gaza at the moment,” Tzipi Hotovely told Sky News, without clarifying if he had been abducted.
The ambassador did not name the missing man but the mother of Jake Marlowe, 26, who moved to Israel from Britain two years ago, said her son had not been heard from since the attack.
She said he had been providing security at the rave party in the desert near Kibbutz Reim close to the Gaza border that was attacked.
“He was doing security at this rave yesterday and called me at 4:30 am to say all these rockets were flying over,” his mother, who gave her name as Lisa, told the Jewish News.
“Then, at about 5:30am, he texted to say ‘signal very bad, everything OK, will keep you updated I promise you’, and that he loves me,” she said.
“He is missing, we don’t know for sure that he is taken hostage or dead or in a hospital,” added an embassy spokesperson.
Britain’s Foreign Office said it was “in contact with — and assisting — the families of several individuals” following the escalation in violence.
The debris from Saturday’s attack still lay around southern Israeli towns and border communities on Sunday morning and Israelis were reeling from the sight of bloodied bodies lying on suburban streets, in cars and in their homes.
Palestinian fighters escaped back into Gaza with dozens of hostages, including both soldiers and civilians. Hamas said it would issue a statement later on Sunday saying how many captives it had seized.
About 30 missing Israelis attending a dance party that was targeted during Saturday’s attack emerged from hiding on Sunday, Israeli media reported.
The capture of so many Israelis, some filmed being pulled through security checkpoints or driven, bleeding, into Gaza, adds another layer of complication for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after previous episodes when hostages were exchanged for many Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas fired more rocket salvoes into Israel on Sunday, with air raid sirens sounding across the south, and the Israeli military said it would combine an evacuation of border areas with a search for more gunmen.
Netanyahu’s office said his security cabinet had approved steps to destroy “for many years”, the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group that has said it is also holding captives, including cutting electricity, fuel supplies and the entry of goods into Gaza.
Israeli air strikes on Gaza began soon after the Hamas attack and continued overnight and into Sunday, destroying the group’s offices and training camps, but also houses and other buildings. Hamas said Israel had cut off water to some areas.
More than 20,000 Palestinians in the Gaza have sought refuge in schools run by the United Nations, the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency said.
Black smoke, orange flashes and sparks lit the sky from explosions. Israeli drones could be heard overhead. Unlike in some previous rounds of strikes, Israel’s military did not give advance warning of strikes on residential buildings.
In a refugee camp in central Gaza, neighbours removed rubble to retrieve the bodies of seven people from one family, including five children, whose house had been bombed.
In Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, people searched through the remains of a mosque early on Sunday. “We ended the night prayers and suddenly the mosque was bombed. They terrorised the children, the elderly and women,” said resident Ramez Hneideq.
Conditions in the West Bank have worsened under Netanyahu’s hard-right government with more Israeli raids and assaults by Jewish settlers on Palestinian villages, and the Palestinian Authority called for an emergency Arab League meeting.
Peacemaking has been stalled for years and Israeli politics have been convulsed this year by internal wrangles over Netanyahu’s plans to overhaul the judiciary.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the assault that began in Gaza would spread to the West Bank and Jerusalem. Gazans have lived under an Israeli-led blockade for 16 years, since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.
In a speech, Haniyeh highlighted what he called threats to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, on a site that is also holy to Jews who know it as the Temple Mount, the continuation of Israel’s blockade and Israeli normalisation with countries in the region.
“How many times have we warned you that the Palestinian people have been living in refugee camps for 75 years, and you refuse to recognise the rights of our people?”
In the north, Lebanon’s Hezbollah said in a statement it had carried out a rocket and artillery attack on the Shebaa Farms, a slice of land occupied by Israel since 1967 that Lebanon claims.
Israel responded with artillery fire and drone strikes. Israeli television said it later employed a missile defence system. There were no reports of casualties.
Across the Middle East, there were demonstrations in support of Hamas, while Iran and Hezbollah praised the attack.