The long standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict took a dramatic and deadly turn on Saturday as Hamas launched a massive rocket barrage into southern Israel, igniting concerns of an all out war in the region. The situation is rapidly evolving, with violence spreading beyond Gaza and southern Israel, and international actors becoming increasingly involved.
Hamas Rockets and Palestinian Incursions
On Saturday at 6:30 am local time (03:30 GMT), Hamas initiated a coordinated attack on southern Israel. Sirens blared as far north as Tel Aviv and Beersheba, signaling the extent of the threat. Hamas claimed to have fired 5,000 rockets initially, while Israel reported 2,500 rockets fired, marking one of the most substantial rocket attacks in recent years.
In a bold move, Palestinian fighters launched a multifaceted operation that included land, air, and sea incursions into Israel, successfully breaching security barriers. This coordinated assault followed a series of escalating tensions, including Israeli settlers' incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Palestinian casualties.
Escalating Violence and International Repercussions
Explosions were reported in Gaza at 9:45 am (06:45 GMT), with Israel confirming air attacks at 10 am (07:00 GMT). Gunfights continued between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters in southern Israel, and ongoing Israeli airstrikes were met with rocket fire into southern Israel.
By Monday morning, the casualty toll had already reached alarming numbers, with around over 500 Palestinians killed and approximately 3,000 wounded, while over 800 Israelis have reportedly been killed with over 2,000 wounded. These numbers are expected to continue increasing as the fighting continues.
There are growing concerns that the conflict might expand beyond Gaza and southern Israel. Both Hezbollah and Iran congratulated Hamas on its actions, condemning Arab states with ties to Israel. Speculation about Iran's involvement in planning the attack has increased, although not yet confirmed.
In response, the United States sent navy warships and an aircraft carrier to the region. At Ben Gurion international airport, long lines formed as people attempted to leave Israel amid fears of further escalation. There were also reports of non-essential U.S. embassy personnel potentially being evacuated, with plans for a broader evacuation under consideration.
A Rapidly Evolving Crisis
The situation continues to escalate as Israeli airstrikes in Gaza persist. Reports of foreign hostages, including Americans, being held by Hamas and Islamic Jihad complicate the situation further.
Israel has confirmed airstrikes in southern Lebanon, effectively expanding the conflict into a two-front war. Gaza-based militants appear to be aiming to provoke Hezbollah's involvement.
Israel's defense minister ordered a complete blockade of Gaza, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation. The death toll continues to climb, with most casualties being Palestinian.
Talks of a ground invasion of Gaza are growing, with over 100,000 Palestinians displaced from their homes. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu declared Israel to be "at war," and the blockade added to the existing siege on Gaza in place since 2007.