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Netanyahu warns Israel faces ‘long and difficult’ war


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Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel faced a “long and difficult war”, as its planes struck targets in the Gaza Strip overnight in the wake of an unprecedented multi-pronged attack by Hamas militants that stunned the country.

More than 200 Israelis were killed on Saturday and more than 1,200 were injured after hundreds of Hamas militants on paragliders, motorbikes and boats stormed into the country from Gaza in a surprise attack that inflicted Israel’s worst death toll in decades.

Israeli officials said that Hamas had attacked dozens of communities in southern Israel, and managed to take a “significant” number of Israelis hostage and take them back to Gaza.

Officials in Gaza said that 232 people had been killed by retaliatory Israeli strikes on the coastal enclave, which has been blocked by Israel and Egypt since Hamas took control in 2007, and that 1,697 had been wounded.

Speaking after a meeting of the Israeli security cabinet finished early on Sunday, the Israeli prime minister said that Israeli forces had destroyed the “vast majority of the enemy forces that infiltrated our territory”, and that it had now begun the “offensive phase”.

“[This] will continue with neither limitations nor respite until the objectives are achieved,” he said.

However, early on Sunday, 24 hours after the attack began, Israeli forces were still battling militants, and an official said that fighting was continuing in eight places in Israel, including at a military base in Zikim.

In a sign of the potential for the conflict to spiral into a regional conflagration, Israel’s military said that its artillery had also struck areas in Lebanon in response to mortars fired in the direction of Israel.

Richard Hecht, a spokesman for Israel’s armed forces, said that the military was looking into the incident but that it had not been an “all out” attack from Lebanon, and urged Hizbollah, the powerful Iran-backed militant group that has a strong presence in southern Lebanon, not to enter the fighting. “I don’t think they will. But if they do, we are ready,” he said.

Saturday’s surprise attack, which was launched on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah and caught Israel’s military off-guard, poses a serious challenge for Netanyahu’s far-right government, which came to power last year with hardliners in important posts pledging to bolster security.

Israeli officials said that militants in Gaza had fired more than 3,500 rockets at Israel during their initial barrage on Saturday, but that most casualties had been caused by close combat and “executions” by Hamas militants.

As international efforts began to de-escalate the conflict, the UN security council was due to meet later on Sunday.

The secretary-general António Guterres, condemned the attack by Hamas and urged “all diplomatic efforts to avoid a wider conflagration”, while the UN peacekeeping force had been deployed along Israel’s border with Lebanon to “maintain stability and help avoid escalation”.

 



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