Palestinian attack on Israel: what we know

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  October 7, 2023

Hamas fighters have made a surprise assault from Gaza and are fighting battles in Israeli streets. Middle East Eye breaks down the latest events.

Early on Saturday morning, Palestinians launched an assault on Israel from the Gaza Strip, including rocket attacks and fighters infiltrating Israeli communities.

Here’s what we know so far:

The attack

Hamas’s military leader, Mohammad Deif, said early on Saturday that 5,000 rockets had been fired at Israel. The Israeli military put the number at 2,200.

For context, about 4,000 rockets were fired by Palestinian resistance groups over 50 days during the 2014 Gaza war.

Palestinian fighters also crossed from Gaza into Israel. It is unclear how many have made it into Israel, but the number is thought to be in the dozens at least. Hamas has released footage of fighters heading into Israel on motorbikes through a hole in Israel’s boundary fence.

Israeli media reported that paragliding Palestinian fighters flew over the fence then opened gates to let others through. Unverified footage circulating online purportedly shows paragliders crossing into Israel. Hamas later released footage of its fighters using paragliding equipment, but it was not clear if it had been filmed on Saturday.

Israeli army spokesman Richard Hecht confirmed it was a “combined ground raid which happened through paragliders, through the sea and through the ground”.

The casualties

Israeli emergence services said at least 20 Israelis had been killed. That included one person killed by rocket fire in Kfar Aviv and four more in villages in southern Israel.

The mayor of Shaar Hanegev was reportedly killed during an exchange of fire with Palestinian fighters.

Israeli medics say at least 545 others are wounded, many in critical condition.

However, the number of casualties is likely to be higher. Photographic and video footage is circulating online that indicates several Israeli soldiers and civilians may have been killed by fighters in Israeli settlements close to the Gaza Strip.

The response

Israel has declared that it is in a state of war.

“We are at war, this is not an operation,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“Hamas has launched a murderous surprise attack against the State of Israel and its citizens. Firstly, I have ordered for all of the settlements to be cleansed of the terrorists who have infiltrated, and I have ordered for a large-scale mobilization of reserves. The enemy will pay a price he has never known.”

Israel has begun bombing the Gaza Strip. 

Deif, the leader of Hamas’s military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, called on all Palestinians and resistance factions to rise up against Israel.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed movement that last fought a war with Israel in 2006, hailed the attack.

“Resistance is the only option in the face of aggression and occupation and a message to the Arab and Islamic world and the entire international community, especially those seeking normalization with this enemy, that the Palestinian issue is a living issue that will not die until victory and liberation,” it said.

The United States, United Kingdom and Germany have all condemned the attack.

The current situation

Hamas said it has taken several Israelis hostage. It is believed they include soldiers and civilians, and footage online indicates some have been taken to Gaza.

Israeli police say an estimated 60 Palestinian fighters remain in Israel across about 14 locations, after previously saying there were 21 “active confrontation locations in southern Israel” with army special forces present at the scene.

In occupied East Jerusalem, Palestinians are blocking roads and Israeli police are confronting them and firing teargas.

Israelis have been urged to stay indoors.

The background

This is the most significant surprise attack on Israel since the 1973 war launched by Egypt almost exactly 50 years ago.

Hamas and Hezbollah have both said the attack is a response to Israeli violations of Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem.

In recent weeks, Israelis have celebrated several major religious holidays, such as Yom Kippur. Ahead of Jewish prayers at the Western Wall, Israeli forces have raided the adjacent Al-Aqsa Mosque and cleared it of Palestinian worshippers.

In 2021, Israeli raids on Al-Aqsa provoked Hamas into firing a barrage of rockets at Israel. The ensuing two-week conflict saw 250 Palestinians and 14 Israelis killed, and riots in mixed Palestinian-Jewish cities in Israel.

This year has been the deadliest year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since the Second Intifada ended in 2005. So far, 172 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank this year, as armed Palestinian resistance there has grown.