‘We are at war,’ Netanyahu declares after surprise attack on Israel by Hamas – POLITICO

Israel was struck by a surprise attack by Hamas early Saturday morning in one of the most serious escalations in years between Israel and the Islamist militant group. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the country was “at war.”

Israel launched retaliatory air strikes on targets in Gaza.

The massive assault by Hamas combined a barrage of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel and dozens of heavily armed gunmen attacking the country’s south from Gaza. At least 22 Israelis have been killed in the attack with more than 250 wounded, Israel’s ambulance service said, according to media reports. The toll was expected to rise.

“We are at war, and we will win,” Netanyahu said in a message to Israelis. “The enemy will pay an unprecedented price.”

The Israel Defense Forces carried out retaliatory strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza. “The IDF is initiating a large-scale operation to defend Israeli civilians against the combined attack launched against Israel by Hamas this morning,” the IDF said in a statement.

IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters that more than 2,200 rockets have been fired into Israel Saturday morning, the Times of Israel reported. Hagari said the Hamas militants infiltrated from land, sea and air.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned that Hamas “made a grave mistake,” the Associated Press reported. He spoke following a security cabinet meeting at the Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv Saturday.

Pictures and videos on social media suggest that several civilians may have been injured or killed in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, at the border with the Gaza Strip. Those images appear to show uniformed Palestinian gunmen opening fire on civilians and civilian vehicles on the streets.

“Hamas … which is behind this attack, will bear the results and responsibility for the events,” the armed forces said in a statement.

Amid reports of widespread infiltration of Hamas fighters, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced he had given the green light for army reservists to be called up for active service. The country’s defense forces are heavily reliant on 465,000 eligible part-time soldiers, and the number called up will depend on how the situation unfolds, Gallant said.

Mohammed Deif, the de facto leader of the Gaza headquartered Hamas group, issued a recorded message prior to the attacks, declaring the start of “Operation Al-Aqsa Storm” — a reference to the symbolic mosque that stands on Temple Mount in East Jerusalem.

“Enough is enough,” he said, calling on Palestinians to take up arms against Israel.

Seth Franzman, a regional political analyst in Jerusalem, told POLITICO that he and his family had been “woken up by sirens and rocket fire at around 8 in the morning.” He added: “We could see the explosions from our balcony. My family’s in the shelter now because, even though Israel has advanced air defenses, things can fall out of the sky when they’re intercepted.”

“This is a pretty major surprise attack,” said Franzman, who also works as an editor for The Jerusalem Post, “because there wasn’t the usual back and forth drumbeat between Israel and Hamas that takes place before escalations. This is totally different.”

Saudi Arabia called for an “immediate halt to the escalation of conflict between Palestinians and Israel.” Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said it “is closely following developments in the unprecedented situation between a number of Palestinian factions and the Israeli occupation forces.”

“We recall our repeated warnings of the dangers of the situation exploding as a result of the continued occupation,” the ministry said in a statement. Saudi Arabia reiterated its call for a credible peace process that would lead to a two-state solution.

The EU condemned the attacks. “I unequivocally condemn the attack carried out by Hamas terrorists against Israel,” European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said in a statement. “It is terrorism in its most despicable form.”

“Israel has the right to defend itself against such heinous attacks,” she said.

“This horrific violence must stop immediately. Terrorism and violence solve nothing,” Josep Borrell, the bloc’s top diplomat, said in a statement. “The EU expresses its solidarity with Israel in these difficult moments.”

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