Fighting raged in parts of Israel and the Gaza Strip early Sunday, one day after the Palestinian militant group Hamas carried out a surprise large-scale attack against Israel.
Israeli retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday destroyed Hamas locations and several residential buildings. The Associated Press reports one airstrike flattened a 14-story tower that held dozens of apartments as well as Hamas offices in central Gaza City.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s offensive will continue “without reservation and without respite.”
Hamas kept up its strikes overnight too, firing rockets overnight at several cities, including Tel Aviv.
Much of Gaza has been plunged into darkness since the attacks. Israel maintains a blockade around the territory and Netanyahu announced that Israel will cut the electricity, fuel and other goods it supplies to Gaza.
Saturday’s coordinated attack from Hamas came as a complete surprise to Israeli intelligence.
Israel “didn’t have an inkling of what was going on,” Efraim Halevy, the former chief of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, told CNN. “We had no warning of any kind and it was a total surprise that the war broke out this morning.” He said the attack was the first time the Palestinians had been able to “penetrate” so deeply into Israel.
The militants launched over 3,000 missiles in less than 24 hours, according to Halevy. “This is beyond imagination from our point of view,” Halvey told CNN. “We didn’t know they had this quantity of missiles and we certainly didn’t expect that they would be as effective as they were today. … As an operation, it was highly successful, unfortunately.”
At least 250 Israelis were killed and more than 1,000 wounded after dozens of Palestinian militants infiltrated Israel from Gaza by land, sea and air. An unknown number of Israeli soldiers and civilians were seized and taken into Gaza, an enormously sensitive issue for Israel.
Palestinian health officials said at least 200 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,600 wounded in Israel’s retaliatory strikes.
Netanyahu vowed to avenge what he said was a “black day” for Israel, saying the army will strike back at Hamas in Gaza with full force.
“The [Israeli Defense Force] is about to use all its force to destroy Hamas’ capabilities,” Netanyahu said in a brief televised statement. “We’ll strike them to the bitter end and avenge with force this black day they brought on Israel and its people.”
U.S. President Joe Biden voiced “rock solid and unwavering” support for the U.S. ally and warned “against any other party hostile to Israel seeking advantage in this situation.”
Hamas and Israel have fought four wars since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.
The U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting for Sunday to discuss the latest violence.
As night fell Saturday, the Israeli army said its forces were engaged in live gun battles in many locations.
“There are still 22 locations where we are engaging with terrorists that came into Israel, from the sea, from the land and from the air,” said army spokesperson Richard Hecht on what he labelled a “robust ground invasion.”
The coordinated attack began around 6:30 a.m. local time with thousands of rockets aimed as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, some slipping past Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and hitting buildings.
Hamas fighters, using ground vehicles, motorized paragliders and boats, breached Gaza’s security barrier and attacked nearby Israeli towns and military posts, opening fire on residents and passersby.
Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem contributed to this report; some material for this article came from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.