In one of the largest militant attacks on Israel in recent years, the Palestinian group Hamas launched a major offensive against Israeli targets early on Saturday morning. Hundreds of rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel, while armed Hamas militants also crossed into Israel by land and air.
The rocket barrage began around 6 AM local time on Saturday, with Hamas claiming to have fired over 5,000 rockets from multiple launch sites across the Gaza Strip. Air raid sirens began sounding across southern Israel as the rockets rained down. Israeli defence systems managed to intercept many of the rockets, but others struck residential areas, roads, and infrastructure. At least one woman in her 60s, named by sources as Leah Agami, was killed by a direct hit to her home in Ashkelon. Dozens more were injured by rockets and debris.
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Hamas coordinated the attacks as part of a new military operation called “Al-Aqsa Storm.” In a statement, senior Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif declared that “enough is enough” and called on Palestinians to directly confront Israeli forces and civilians. “The Palestinian people will not accept the ongoing denial of their rights and oppression,” Deif said in a speech broadcast by Hamas media. “Today marks the beginning of a new phase in the Palestinian resistance.”
To coincide with the rocket attacks, Hamas special forces launched an incursion into southern Israel by land and air. Some units crossed into Israel via the border fence that separates Gaza from Israel, using explosives and cutting equipment to breach the barrier. Other militants managed to infiltrate using paragliders, crossing over the border and releasing flares to evade detection by Israeli thermal sensors along the fence line.
Video footage released by Hamas and eyewitness accounts indicate that armed militants moved several kilometres into Israeli territory, engaging Israeli security forces and civilian settlements. Images showed armed men in military fatigues moving through streets and firing weapons. At least one Israeli military vehicle was seen on fire inside Gaza near the border.
Israel responded forcefully to the attacks. The Israeli Defence Forces declared a “state of war” and ordered all civilians in southern Israel to remain sheltered indoors. Mass call-ups of reserve soldiers were initiated, while the IDF sent attack helicopters, tanks and troops into action both along the Gaza border and launching air strikes from within Israeli airspace.
“We are dealing with an extensive attack carried out by Hamas from the Gaza Strip on Israeli territory. Forces are operating throughout the Gaza Strip,” said IDF spokesperson Jonathan Conricus in a statement.”All available forces have been mobilised in all domains in order to thwart Hamas' plan. We are prepared for any scenario.”
By midday local time, the IDF claimed to have struck over 350 militant targets across the Gaza Strip, including rocket launch sites, weapons storage facilities, and command centres. Israeli aircraft bombarded positions in densely populated urban areas, while tanks shelled border zones. Palestinian officials reported over 30 deaths so far from Israeli attacks, including several militants and children. Clashes continued in Gaza and along the border fence throughout Saturday.
The massive Hamas assault appeared aimed at catching Israel off guard through its scale, coordination between rocket attacks and infiltration squads, and the involvement of militant units inside Israeli territory. However, the IDF has conducted extensive operations against Hamas in recent months, including targeted killings that has decimated the group's ranks. Israel anticipated further escalation from Hamas and had placed forces on high alert.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who retained power after elections last year, held emergency consultations with defence officials. “All citizens of Israel should be cognizant of the possibility of continued fighting and be ready for any scenario,” the PM stated. Opposition leader Yair Lapid placed blame on Netanyahu, saying his government's policies had weakened deterrence against Hamas.
International observers roundly condemned the Hamas attacks. British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly stated that the UK “unequivocally condemns the horrific attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians.” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna denounced the militant incursions as “inadmissible terrorist acts posing a serious threat to regional stability.” Israeli allies like the United States, Germany and Australia also stressed Israel's right to self-defence against rocket fire.
However, the scale of the Israeli response drew criticism from some quarters. Human rights groups documented apparent disproportionate strikes hitting civilian homes in Gaza. “Israel may act lawfully in self-defence but must take all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties,” said Philip Luther of Amnesty International. Turkey and Qatar, state backers of Hamas, accused Israel of using excessive force that risked igniting wider conflict.
Hamas justified its attacks by citing growing Palestinian frustration at the ongoing siege and blockade of Gaza by Israel. The enclave has been under militant control since 2007, but Israel maintains tight security restrictions along the border. Economic conditions in Gaza are deteriorating rapidly due to high unemployment, poverty and limited access to resources like clean water. Hamas seeks to pressure Israel by threatening further attacks until the blockade is lifted.
As clashes continued throughout Saturday, both sides appeared locked into an escalatory cycle threatening to ignite a new all-out war. Palestinian militants in Gaza remained defiant and warned of further attacks if Israeli strikes continued. But Israeli leaders said Hamas had opened “Pandora's box” and must face severe consequences. With neither willing to stand down, numerous attempts at ceasefire mediation by Egypt, Qatar and the UN threatened to fail amid intensifying violence on the ground.
By Saturday evening local time, over 1,000 rockets had reportedly been fired from Gaza towards Israeli population centres like Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba. Dozens of Israeli airstrikes and artillery bombardments struck targets across the crowded Gaza Strip. The Palestinian death toll exceeded 50, including numerous civilians, while rockets caused mounting property damage and three Israeli deaths. Militant incursions inside Israel remained ongoing in certain border areas.
The ferocity of Hamas' “Al-Aqsa Storm” assault appeared aimed at pushing Israel into a broader conflict that could exact a toll. But the Jewish state seemed willing to do whatever necessary to cripple militant capabilities in Gaza and prevent further attacks on its civilians. Whether both sides can draw back from the brink or become embroiled in full-scale war remained to be seen amid an uncertain weekend. Most analysts predicted that a lasting resolution to the underlying conflict driving this latest escalation remained as distant as ever.
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