Middle East Eye / October 7, 2023
Palestinian fighters from Gaza infiltrated Israel in a major assault on Saturday, triggering mixed reactions from the international community.
Palestinian fighters from Gaza infiltrated Israel in a major assault on Saturday, with the Israeli army responding with devastating air strikes that killed hundreds of civilians in the besieged territory.
Footage posted online showed Palestinian fighters using bulldozers and wire-cutters to break through the separation barrier between Gaza and Israel, while others showed some Israelis being taken hostage after the assault.
Mohammad Deif, the leader of Hamas’s military wing, said the operation was launched in response to Israel’s continued aggression on Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
He said that Hamas, which was being supported by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, had fired some 5,000 rockets into Israel.
Israeli army officials dismissed Deif’s claim and said the Palestinians had fired only 2,200 rockets.
Since the assault, there has been a mixed reaction from the international community.
Here’s what some world leaders had to say:
For several weeks, rumours have swirled that Saudi Arabia is edging closer to normalizing ties with Israel as Israeli ministers visited the Gulf kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry offered a mild statement, calling for an “immediate cessation of violence”.
“We are following the unprecedented developments between a number of Palestinian factions and Israel occupation forces which has led to a high level of violence on a number of fronts,” the foreign ministry said.
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020, said Hamas’s decision to launch an assault into Israel marked a “serious and grave escalation”.
In a statement posted on Sunday, UAE’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Amjad Saleh condemned Hamas for launching its assault and urged for the protection of civilians on both sides.
“The Ministry stressed that attacks by Hamas against Israeli towns and villages near the Gaza strip, including the firing of thousands of rockets at population centers, are a serious and grave escalation,” said the UAE’s Foreign Ministry.
“The Ministry is appalled by reports that Israeli civilians have been abducted as hostages from their homes. Civilians on both sides must always have full protection under international humanitarian law and must never be a target of conflict.
It added: “[The UAE] deeply mourns the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives as a result of the outbreak of violence, and calls on both parties to de-escalate and avoid an expansion of the heinous violence with tragic consequences affecting civilian lives and facilities.”
An adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Saturday congratulated Palestinian fighters for launching the biggest attack on Israel in years, the semi-official ISNA news site reported.
“We congratulate the Palestinian fighters,” it quoted Yahya Rahim Safavi as saying. “We will stand by the Palestinian fighters until the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem.”
Iran’s state television showed parliament members rising from their seats on Saturday to chant “Death to Israel” and “Palestine is victorious, Israel will be destroyed”.
Qatar’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying that Israel alone was responsible for the ongoing escalation of violence with the Palestinian people.
It said Qatar calls on both sides to exercise utmost restraint and on the international community to prevent Israel from using these events as an excuse to launch a disproportionate war against Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
Over the years, Gaza’s closest neighbour, Egypt, has played a central role in negotiating ceasefires between Palestinian militant groups in Gaza and Israel.
Egypt on Saturday warned of “grave consequences” from an escalation in tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, in a statement from the foreign ministry carried by the state news agency.
It called for “exercising maximum restraint and avoiding exposing civilians to further danger”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday called on Israelis and Palestinians to act with restraint and refrain from hostile acts that could exacerbate the situation.
“We call for restraint from all parties,” Erdogan said at a congress for his ruling AK Party in Ankara. “They must refrain from aggressive acts.”
US President Joe Biden said he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the “appalling Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel. I offered our support and reiterated my unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”
He added: “@FLOTUS and I express our heartfelt condolences to the families who have lost loved ones.”
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said the United States would work to ensure that Israel “has what it needs to defend itself”.
“Over the coming days the Department of Defence will work to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself and protect civilians from indiscriminate violence and terrorism,” Austin said in a statement.
British Foreign Minister James Cleverly took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to issue a condemnation against Hamas.
“The UK unequivocally condemns the horrific attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians. The UK will always support Israel’s right to defend itself,” said Cleverly.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minsiter Mikhail Bogdanov told the Interfax News agency that Moscow was in contact with Israel, the Palestinians and Arab countries.
“It goes without saying that we always call for restraint,” said Bogdanov.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said it “strongly condemns the ongoing terrorist attacks against Israel, including rockets against the civilian population in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv”.
The ministry added: “We express our support for Israel in its right to defend itself and its people.”
The spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, condemned this morning’s attack by Hamas on Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip and central Israel.
“The Secretary-General is appalled by reports that civilians have been attacked and abducted from their own homes,” the spokesperson said.
“The Secretary-General extends his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and calls for the immediate release of all abducted persons.”
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an immediate halt to the violence, saying he was shocked by reports that hundreds of rockets had been fired towards Israel.
“This attack is having a horrific impact on Israeli civilians,” Volker Tuerk said in a statement.
“Civilians must never be the target of attack.”
Kuwait blamed Israel for “blatant attacks” on Palestinians and said it expressed “grave concerns” over the situation unfolding in Gaza and Israel.
The Syrian government praised the Palestinian operation in southern Israel and said it was “honourable” and the “only way to achieve the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”
“Palestinian resistance factions marked a new chapter of struggle on the path to achieving the inalienable Palestinian rights through Operation Al-Aqsa Flood against the racist Zionist entity,” the Foreign and Expatriates Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
“Syria reiterates its support for the Palestinian people against Zionist terrorism and stresses that Palestine is close to achieving the desired victory.”
Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit called for an “immediate halt to military operations in Gaza” and “the cycle of armed confrontation between the two sides.”
“Israel’s continued implementation of violent and extremist policies is a time bomb depriving the region of any serious opportunity for stability in the foreseeable future.”
The European Union said it condemned the actions of Palestinian fighters after they launched a surprise attack on southern Israel.
“The EU calls for an immediate cessation of these senseless attacks and violence, which will only further increase tensions on the ground and seriously undermine Palestinian people’s aspirations for peace,” the EU said in a statement.
“The EU stands in solidarity with Israel which has the right to defend itself in line with international law, in the face of such violent and indiscriminate attacks.”
Areeb Ullah is a journalist for Middle East Eye