Media caption, Watch: Massive explosion as Gaza high-rises destroyed by jets
By Yolande Knell, Raffi Berg and David Gritten
BBC News, Jerusalem and London
At least 150 people are reported killed and 1,100 wounded in Israel after the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched its biggest attack in years.
Dozens of gunmen from Gaza infiltrated southern Israeli communities after dawn under the cover of heavy rocket fire.
They have taken both Israeli soldiers and civilians hostage, and some have been brought back to Gaza.
Israel has responded with a wave of air strikes on Gaza that have killed 232 people and wounded 1,600, medics say.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “at war” and vowed that Hamas, which rules Gaza, would “pay an unprecedented price”.
The Israeli military has mobilised tens of thousands of reservists and is now expected to launch a ground operation in Gaza.
This is one of the most serious escalations in the Israel-Palestinian conflict in years.
The attack by Hamas saw fighters cross the perimeter fence at just after dawn. At the same time, barrages of rockets were launched from Gaza – some reaching as far as the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
How the gunmen managed to penetrate one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world is unclear.
The Israeli military has said dozens of fighter jets are carrying out air strikes on Hamas sites in Gaza, and it has hit 17 Hamas military compounds. It also said it has mobilised tens of thousands of reservists.
Israeli bombs destroyed an 11-story tower in downtown Gaza City which houses Hamas radio stations in the rooftop.
Medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said a nurse and an ambulance driver were killed in Israeli strikes on two hospitals in Gaza.
Reuters news agency reported Israel’s energy minister, Israel Katz, as saying that Israel would cut off Gaza’s electricity supply.
The rocket barrages from Gaza – the biggest attack by Hamas on Israel in years – began just after dawn on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath and the day of the festival of Simchat Torah.
As sirens sounded across Israel, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) announced that “terrorists” had infiltrated Israeli territory “in a number of different locations”.
People in towns close to Gaza have been calling in to Israeli news stations saying they were trapped in their homes, as militants entered their towns and villages.
In the town of Sderot, only 1.6km (1 mile) from Gaza, videos posted online appeared to show a group of heavily armed Palestinian militants driving around in a pick-up truck and exchanging fire with Israeli forces.
Media caption, Watch: Video appears to show Palestinian gunmen in Sderot
The BBC understands that dozens of hostages, both military and civilian, have been taken by Hamas – an unprecedented development.
Some are thought to be being held in some of the small towns near the Gaza Strip, while others have been taken back into Gaza.
Hamas claimed it has captured 53 “prisoners of war” including senior officers from Israel’s army, and that many were being held in tunnels – which have been prime targets for Israel in previous wars.
A spokesperson for the IDF confirmed that “soldiers and civilians” had been abducted, and some soldiers had been killed – but denied reports that a top general has been kidnapped.
The IDF said they were fighting Hamas in 22 locations – and militants had also entered into Israel by sea, at Zikim on the coast just north of Gaza.
Footage is also circulating of Palestinians driving Israeli military vehicles in Gaza.
Media caption, Watch: Video purportedly shows captured Israeli tank in Gaza
Israeli media cited the Israeli health ministry as confirming that 150 people had been killed in Israel and 1,104 others wounded.
The rocket barrages continued throughout Saturday morning, with thousands of projectiles launched towards Israel. A new barrage of rocket strikes was launched in the evening, towards the central cities of Tel Aviv, Bat Yam and Giv’atayim.
Residents say they do not remember a situation like this for a long time, with streets in Tel Aviv locked down and empty.
“There is a heavy feeling of surprise, of shock and of fear from what is still expected to happen,” English author and journalist Gideon Levy told the BBC.
“When the first rockets fell, I was still jogging in the park, the noise was terrible.”
The leader of one regional council in southern Israel, Ofir Liebstein, was killed in an exchange of fire with militants when he went to defend his community.
“Citizens of Israel, we are at war, not an operation, not an escalation, a war,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a statement. “I convened the heads of the security establishment and ordered – first of all – to clear out the communities that have been infiltrated by terrorists. This currently is being carried out.
“At the same time, I have ordered an extensive mobilization of reserves and that we return fire of a magnitude that the enemy has not known.”
Image source, Reuters
Image caption, Israeli military drive on a road in southern Israel, as rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip
Mohammed Deif, a senior Hamas military commander, announced the start of the attack on Hamas media. “This is the day of the greatest battle to end the last occupation on Earth,” he said, and called on Palestinians everywhere to fight.
Ismail Haniyeh, the leader-in-exile of Hamas, later claimed that Palestinian factions intended to expand the violence to the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas spokesman, told the BBC World Service that the group had direct backing for the attack from Iran. An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader had earlier said the country would “stand by the Palestinian fighters until the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem”.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – a political rival of Hamas – said the Palestinian people had the right to defend themselves against the “terror of settlers and occupation troops”.
A major investigation has been launched as to how Israeli intelligence failed to see the well-coordinated Hamas attack coming, Israeli government officials have told the BBC
There has been strong international condemnation to the Hamas attacks, with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly saying the UK “unequivocally condemns the horrific attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians”.
Nato condemned the “terrorist attacks” by Hamas against Israel, while the UN secretary general said he was “appalled by reports that civilians have been attacked and abducted from their own homes”.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described it as “terrorism in its most despicable form” – while the US said it “unequivocally condemns the unprovoked attacks” and “there is never any justification for terrorism”.
Qatar’s foreign ministry said Israel alone was responsible for the ongoing escalation of violence.
Additional reporting by Francesca Gillett.
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