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Israel has declared war on the Palestinian militant group Hamas after it carried out an unprecedented attack by air, sea and land on Saturday.
The large-scale surprise attack has left at least 900 dead in Israel, prompting a deadly barrage of retaliatory Israeli airstrikes on Gaza that killed at least 687 people.
As they retreated into Gaza, the militants claimed to have taken with them at least 100 hostages and have threatened to kill them if they attack Gaza without warning. Israel has promised that Hamas will pay a heavy price and may now be preparing a ground incursion into Gaza.
This is what we know so far.
Gaza militants fired thousands of rockets at Israeli cities on Saturday morning, before breaching the heavily fortified border fence with Israel and sending militants deep into Israeli territory. There, Hamas gunmen killed hundreds of people, including civilians and soldiers, and took hostages, sometimes in their homes.
It took more than two days for Israeli troops to regain control as fighting raged in the streets. On Monday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had regained control of all Israeli communities in the vicinity of Gaza on its southern border after fighting with Hamas ended.
The attacks were unprecedented in tactics and scale, as Israel has not faced its adversaries in street battles on its own territory since the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Nor has it ever faced a terrorist attack of this magnitude that occurred. has claimed the lives of so many civilians. While Hamas has kidnapped Israelis before, it has never before taken dozens of hostages at a time, including children and the elderly.
Hamas called the operation “Al-Aqsa Storm” and said the assault was a response to what it described as Israeli attacks on women, the desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and the ongoing siege of Gaza.
In response to the attack, Israel declared war and launched “Operation Iron Swords,” attacking suspected Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza.
Hundreds of people had died in Gaza as of Monday, including dozens of children, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said.
The IDF has urged civilians in Gaza to leave their residential areas immediately for their safety as Israeli military operations continue to target Hamas, and has closed all crossings between Israel and Gaza, potentially setting the stage for a ground incursion into the enclave. .
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday that he had ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza. “There is no electricity, no food, no fuel. “Everything closed,” he said, adding that water will not be delivered either.
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have existed since before Israel’s founding in 1948. Thousands of people on both sides have been killed and many more injured over the decades.
The violence has been particularly acute this year. The number of Palestinians – militants and civilians – killed in the occupied West Bank by Israeli forces since the start of the year is the highest in almost two decades. The same goes for Israelis and foreigners – most of them civilians – killed in Palestinian attacks.
Israel captured Gaza from Egypt in the 1967 war, then withdrew its troops and settlers in 2005. The territory, home to about 2 million Palestinians, fell under Hamas control in 2007 after a brief civil war with Fatah, a rival Palestinian faction that is the backbone of the Palestinian Authority.
After Hamas took control, Israel and Egypt imposed a strict siege on the territory, which continues. Israel also maintains an air and naval blockade on Gaza. Human Rights Watch has described the territory as an “open-air prison.” More than half of its population lives in poverty and suffers from food insecurity, and almost 80% of its population depends on humanitarian assistance.
Hamas and Israel have fought several wars. Before Saturday’s operation, the last war between the two was in 2021, which lasted 11 days and killed at least 250 people in Gaza and 13 in Israel.
Saturday’s attack occurred nearly 50 years after the 1973 war, when Israel’s Arab neighbors launched a surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Oct. 6, 1973.
Hamas is an Islamist organization with a military wing that was born in 1987, emerging from the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist group founded in the late 1920s in Egypt.
The group, like most Palestinian factions and political parties, insists that Israel is an occupying power and is trying to liberate the Palestinian territories. He considers Israel an illegitimate state and has called for its fall.
Unlike other Palestinian factions, Hamas refuses to engage in dialogue with Israel. In 1993, he opposed the Oslo Accords, a peace pact between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in which the PLO abandoned armed resistance against Israel in exchange for promises of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. The Accords also established the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Hamas presents itself as an alternative to the Palestinian Authority, which has recognized Israel and participated in multiple failed peace initiatives with it. The Palestinian Authority, whose credibility among Palestinians has suffered over the years, is today led by President Mahmoud Abbas.
Over the years, Hamas has claimed responsibility for many attacks against Israel and has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel. Israel accuses its archenemy Iran of backing the group.
Israel is now on a war footing and has already begun mobilizing troops for a possible ground operation in Gaza. He has said he will impose a heavy price on Hamas for its attack and its plans to recover Israeli hostages from the territory.
Israel has dealt with hostage situations before, but never on this scale. In the past, militants have mainly demanded the release of prisoners held in Israeli jails in exchange for captured Israelis. In 2011, Israel exchanged 1,027 Palestinians for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and in 2004 it freed more than two dozen Lebanese and Arab prisoners – including two senior Hezbollah officials – for Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli businessman and army reserve colonel. , as well as the bodies of three IDF soldiers. In 2008, Israel freed five Palestinian prisoners, five Lebanese prisoners, and returned the bodies of nearly 200 Arab fighters in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.
Hamas says it has taken 100 or more hostages captive. Their presence in Gaza will undoubtedly complicate any Israeli military operation there.
The militant group’s armed wing said Monday it would begin killing civilian hostages and broadcasting the act if Israel attacks people in Gaza without warning.
It comes after the IDF said it planned to take control of the Gaza Strip. His spokesman, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, said the goal is to “end the Gaza enclave” and “control the entire enclave.”
When asked if he had stopped “roof slamming,” which is the Israeli military’s warning to civilians before bombing a building. Hecht responded that Hamas did not “hit the ceiling.”
“When they came in and threw grenades at our ambulances, they didn’t hit the roof. This is war. The scale is different,” Hecht said.
Saleh al-Arouri, a senior Hamas member, told Al Jazeera Arabic on Saturday that Hamas is ready “for all options, including war and escalation at all levels.”
“We are prepared for the worst case scenario, including a ground invasion, which will be the best option for us to decide the end of this battle,” al-Arouri said.
The Hamas operation was carried out in a sophisticated and coordinated manner and would have required a significant amount of planning. Speculation has been rife that the group may have received help from abroad, which, if proven, could raise the specter of a broader regional war.
Israel says Iran supports Hamas with about $100 million a year. The US State Department said in 2021 that the group receives funding, weapons and training from Iran, as well as some funds raised in Arab Gulf countries.
“Of course Iran is in the picture,” a US official told CNN. “They have provided support for Hamas and Hezbollah for years.”
A senior Biden administration official said Saturday that it was too early to say whether Iran was directly involved in the attack, but that Washington will follow the matter “very closely.”
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi spoke by phone with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Sunday and later congratulated the Palestinian people on their “victory” over Israel. However, on Monday Iran’s mission to the United Nations said the Islamic Republic was “not involved in the Palestinian response,” referring to the Hamas attack. “It is adopted only by Palestine itself,” he said.
Meanwhile, the United States has sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean, according to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. A US official told CNN that the US is also sending more fighter jets to the Middle East to deter any possible Iranian aggression or an expansion of fighting beyond Israel’s borders.
Israel may also face the threat of new fronts opening in the war. Of its immediate neighbors, it is only at peace with Jordan and Egypt, and is officially at war with Lebanon and Syria. Israel has said it is prepared in case there are attacks from those two countries.
Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, praised the Hamas attack and said it is in contact with Palestinian militant groups “at home and abroad,” its Al Manar channel said. On Sunday, the group claimed responsibility for attacking three Israeli sites in an area known as Shebaa Farms using missiles and artillery. Lebanon considers the area to be occupied by Israel. Israel responded by firing artillery.
On Monday, the IDF said it had killed “a number of armed suspects” who infiltrated Israel from Lebanon and that soldiers were searching the area. Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said Monday that his country does not want to be drawn into the conflict.