Israel is facing a “long and difficult war” against Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday, after the Palestinian anti-Israel resistance launched a surprise attack from the Gaza Strip that killed hundreds of Israelis and captured dozens of hostages.
Netanyahu said Israel was “at war” and vowed to use all of its military strength to destroy Hamas’ capabilities and “take revenge for this black day”. He also warned Gaza residents to “get out now” and said Israel would stop supplying electricity, fuel and goods to the besieged territory.
The attack, which began early on Saturday morning, was the most audacious and deadly by Hamas in years. Backed by a barrage of rockets, an estimated 200-300 Hamas fighters broke out of the blockaded Gaza Strip and infiltrated nearby Israeli towns, shooting at civilians and soldiers.
Video footage showed several people being abducted by gunmen. In some places the anti-occupational fighters roamed for hours, killing civilians and soldiers as Israel’s military scrambled to muster a response.
In a televised address on Saturday night, Netanyahu said the military had fought off the majority of Hamas fighters inside its territory, but that some were still holding hostages in at least two locations. He said Israeli special forces were deployed to rescue them.
He also said Israel had launched retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza, flattening several residential buildings and a 14-storey tower that housed Hamas offices. He said more than 230 people had been killed in Gaza since the morning.
The attack has sparked fears of a regional escalation, as Hamas’ allies in Iran and Lebanon have condemned Israel’s response and threatened to join the fight.
Hamas commander Mohammed Deif said the Palestinian land defenders had “decided to say enough is enough” and that the attack was a response to Israel’s ongoing blockade and oppression of Gaza. He said Hamas was ready for a long war and would not stop until Israel lifted the siege and ended its occupation of Palestinian lands.