Israel on Saturday declared war against Palestine’s Hamas, vowing to avenge a fierce rocket attack that reportedly killed 22 Israelis and which the militants claimed was their “first strike”. Israel has launched air strikes on the blockaded Gaza Strip. Multiple points of impact have been reported across southern and central parts of the country.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was at war and Hamas would pay an unprecedented price. “Citizens of Israel, we are at war. This is not an operation, not an escalation – this is war. And we will win. Hamas will pay an unprecedented price,” he said in a video message.
Over 5,000 rockets were fired on Israel as loud sirens blared across the country in the morning. The country’s defence forces also alleged infiltration by Hamas militants, whom they consider terrorists. Paragliders were used in the attack and cars passing by were fired at on the roads, showed visuals from Israel.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Hamas made a “grave mistake” in launching a war against Israel. “Hamas has made a grave mistake this morning and launched a war against the State of Israel. IDF troops (Israeli army) are fighting against the enemy at every location,” Gallant said in a statement.
The Indian embassy there has asked its citizens living in Israel to remain vigilant and observe safety protocols as advised by local authorities. “Please exercise caution, avid unnecessary movement and stay close to safety shelters,” it said in an advisory.
“The Israel Defense Forces declares a state of readiness for war. There has been widespread rocket fire into Israeli territory from Gaza, and terrorists have infiltrated Israeli territory through various entry points,” Israeli military earlier said and vowed to defend the country.
The armed wing of Hamas declared it has begun “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” and said it has fired over 5,000 rockets in the “first strike of 20 minutes.”
“We have decided to put an end to all of this, with the help of God, so that the enemy understands that the time of recklessness without accountability is over,” Hamas militant leader Mohamed Deif said in a pre-recorded speech.
The government has asked civilians to stay near shelters and those near the Gaza strip to stay home. An elderly Israeli woman was killed “due to a direct hit” in the rocket attacks and 15 others were injured, emergency services said.
Haunting visuals of people fleeing their homes in Gazan border areas have surfaced online. Hundreds of men and women were seen moving away from the border with Israel, carrying blankets and food items.
Israel and Palestinian militants have fought several wars since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007. The latest comes as tensions heightened after Israel closed borders to Gazan workers. As many as 247 Palestinians, 32 Israelis and two foreigners have been killed in the conflict this year so far. These include both fighters and civilians.
The violence erupted a day after Hamas said that the “people had to draw a line to end the occupation” and added that Israel continued to commit crimes across Palestinian land, and especially on the holy site of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.