Palestinian group Hamas launched Operation Al-Aqsa Flood inside Israel, killing dozens and taking hostages in a shocking assault.
A surprise attack by Palestinian group Hamas on Israel – combining gunmen breaching security barriers and a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza – was launched at dawn during the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.
Saturday’s attack came 50 years and a day after Egyptian and Syrian forces launched an assault during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur in an effort to retrieve territory Israel had taken during a brief conflict in 1967.
Here’s how the brazen assault unfolded:
03:30 GMT – Covering rocket fire
- At about 6:30am (03:30 GMT) Hamas fired a huge barrage of rockets into southern Israel with sirens heard as far away as Tel Aviv and Beersheba.
- Hamas said it launched 5,000 rockets in an initial barrage. Israel’s military said 2,500 rockets were fired.
- Smoke billowed over residential Israeli areas and people sheltered behind buildings as sirens sounded. At least one woman was reported killed by the rockets.
- “We announce the start of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and we announce that the first strike, which targeted enemy positions, airports, and military fortifications, exceeded 5,000 missiles and shells,” Mohammed Deif, head of the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said.
04:40 GMT – Dawn infiltration
- The rocket attack served as cover for an unprecedented multi-pronged infiltration of fighters with the Israeli military saying at 7:40am (04:40 GMT) that Palestinian gunmen had crossed into Israel.
- Most fighters entered through breaches in security barriers separating Gaza and Israel. But at least one Hamas soldier was filmed flying over in a powered parachute. A motorboat carrying fighters was seen heading to Zikim, an Israeli coastal town with a military base.
- One video showed at least six motorcycles with fighters crossing through a hole in a metal barrier. A photograph released by Hamas showed a bulldozer tearing down a section of fence.
06:45 GMT – Israeli attacks
- At 9:45am (06:45 GMT) blasts were heard in Gaza and at 10am (07:00 GMT) Israel’s military spokesperson said the air force was carrying out attacks in Gaza.
07:00 GMT – Fighting at Israeli military bases
- Israel’s military said at 10am (07:00 GMT) that Palestinian fighters penetrated at least three military installations around the frontier – the Beit Hanoun border crossing (called Erez by Israel), the Zikim base, and the Gaza division headquarters at Reim.
- Hamas videos showed fighters running towards a burning building near a high concrete wall with a watchtower and fighters apparently overrunning part of an Israeli military facility and shooting from behind a wall.
- Saleh al-Arouri, deputy chief of Hamas in the occupied West Bank, issued a call to arms. “We must all fight this battle, especially the resistance fighters in the West Bank,” he said in a statement.
- Several captured Israeli military vehicles were later pictured being driven into Gaza and paraded there.
Border town raids
- Fighters raided the Israeli town of Sderot, another community Be’eri, and the town of Ofakim, 30km (20 miles) east of Gaza, according to Israeli media.
- Residents of southern Israel fortified their homes to function as bomb shelters and were using them as panic rooms. Israel’s military ordered residents to shelter inside, saying on the radio, “We will reach you.”
- By late evening, Israeli troops were still working to clear communities overrun by Hamas fighters.
- Israel’s national rescue service, Magen David Adom, said at least 100 people were killed as hospitals treated hundreds of wounded people
- Medical sources in Gaza said at least 198 Palestinians were killed following Israeli air raids.
- Israel’s foreign ministry accused Hamas fighters of going house-to-house and killing civilians.
- Israeli media reported gunmen seized hostages in Ofakim. Palestinian Islamic Jihad said it was holding Israeli soldiers, and Hamas social media accounts showed footage appearing to show captives being taken into Gaza.
- One video showed three young men in vests, shorts and flip-flops being marched through a security installation with Hebrew writing on the wall. Other videos showed female captives and Israeli soldiers being dragged from a military vehicle.
19:00 GMT – Fighting continuing
- Israeli air attacks continued late Saturday night as did rocket fire into southern Israel.
- Israeli troops were still fighting Hamas gunmen in 22 locations near the Gaza Strip – a startling sign of the breadth of the assault.
- Israel’s military said it is still fighting “hundreds” of Palestinian infiltrators.