Israel’s security cabinet on Sunday officially declared that the country is at war with Palestine, a day after the Hamas militant group ruling the Gaza Strip launched an unprecedented attack in the southern territories by air, land and sea. Reports say more than 700 Israelis have been killed with thousands wounded. Soldiers and civilians are being held hostage even as militants are going from door to door shooting people or dragging them away.
The country, caught off guard by the deadly onslaught, is mulling an emergency unity government setting aside their differences. Israeli soldiers are battling it out with Hamas fighters in the streets of southern Israel, while northern Israel had a brief exchange of fire as the Lebanon’s Hezbollah entered the fray raising fears of a broader conflict. US President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that military aid is on it way with “more to follow over the coming days”.
The conflict’s death toll surged close to 1,000 on both sides with the bloody escalation heightening Middle East tensions. For Israel, it has been one of the worst losses since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when it came under attack from a coalition led by Egypt and Syria.
In Gaza, which was hammered by Israeli air strikes on 800 targets ahead of what many feared may be a looming ground invasion, officials reported at least 370 deaths with thousands more wounded across the war zone. Tens of thousands of Israeli forces were deployed to battle holdout Hamas fighters in the south, where the bodies of civilians were found strewn on roads and in town centres.
Here is all you need to know about the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict:
- Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said his security cabinet has officially declared the country at war following the deadly Hamas assault in southern Israel. Earlier in the day, the country came under attack from the north when the Hezbollah launched guided missiles and artillery shells “in solidarity” with Palestine. There were no casualties.
- Top Israeli leaders have discussed the possibility of forming an emergency national unity government to deal with the complex situation. Netanyahu and opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz spoke on Saturday (October 7) and discussed the possibility of joining the ruling government because of the emergency created by the Hamas infiltration. A source, most likely a high-ranking party official, said the National Unity party wants “to be able to make proper security decisions”.
- The death toll in Israel has risen to more than 700, while over 100 people are being held as “prisoners” by the militant group, the Israel government said. The government’s press office posted the latest figures on its Facebook. The death toll “is not a final number”, an official said, adding that more than 2,000 people had been wounded including 200 who were in “critical condition”.
- The death toll in the Gaza Strip rose to 370, the health ministry in the Palestinian enclave said, as Israel launched air strikes on Hamas targets for the second consecutive day. The Hamas-controlled ministry said “370 civilians were killed and another 2,200 injured” in the fighting.
- US President Joe Biden ordered ships and warplanes to move closer to Israel in a show of support, while sending fresh military aid. The Pentagon said it was sending the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R Ford and its accompanying warships to the eastern Mediterranean, while boosting fighter aircraft squadrons in the region. Biden spoke to Netanyahu and “conveyed that additional assistance…is now on its way to Israel with more to follow over the coming days”, the White House said.
- A horrifying account of an 18-year-old Israeli girl being “executed” in front of her parents and younger siblings has surfaced. The mother of a German-Israeli woman has also appealed for help in finding her, saying she had identified her daughter in a video in the car of Palestinian militants. The video shows an unconscious young woman, half naked and lying face down in the back of a pick-up truck. Armed men are seated around her. One of them pulls her hair, while another beside the vehicle spits on her head.
- A French national has been killed in Israel while several others are missing. A British man, who was serving in the Israeli army, died in the attack, his family said as another man was reported missing. Two Ukrainian women, who had been living in Israel, were also killed. Thailand has said two of its citizens were killed, while Cambodia reported the death of a Cambodian student.
- Global concern has mounted, with western capitals condemning the attack by Hamas, which Washington and Brussels consider a terrorist group. Israel’s foes have praised the assault, including Iran whose President Ebrahim Raisi voiced support when he spoke with Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders. Anti-Israel protests have flared in Iraq, Pakistan and some other majority Muslim countries, while Germany and France were among nations stepping up security around Jewish temples and schools. London police have stepped up vigil across the city after receiving reports of people appearing to celebrate the attack on Israel by the Hamas militant group. Police said they are aware of a number of such incidents and are also tracking such messages and images related to the conflict shared on social media. In the Egyptian city of Alexandria, a police officer opened fire on Israeli tourists Sunday, killing two of them and their Egyptian guide before he was arrested.
- China said it was “deeply concerned” by the weekend’s dramatic escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, urging all sides to show “calm”. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to Netanyahu to reiterate Kyiv’s support to Israel. Pope Francis called for “peace in Israel and in Palestine”, saying “terrorism and war do not lead to a solution”. He did not mention the Gaza Strip or the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
- Hamas has labelled its attack ‘Operation Al-Aqsa Flood’ and called on “resistance fighters in the West Bank” and “Arab and Islamic nations” to join the battle. Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh has predicted “victory” and vowed to press ahead with “the battle to liberate our land and our prisoners languishing in occupation prisons”.
(With agency inputs)