On Saturday morning, Hamas launched a major and unexpected attack against Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air, and sea. The assault comes just after the 50th anniversary of the Israeli military being taken by surprise in the Yom Kippur War.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the attacks by saying “we are at war.” In a video statement, Netanyahu told the public that Israel would “return fire of a magnitude the enemy has not known before.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
"Citizens of Israel,
We are at war, not in an operation or in rounds, but at war. This morning, Hamas launched a murderous surprise attack against the State of Israel and its citizens. We have been in this since the early morning hours. pic.twitter.com/C7YQUviItR
— Prime Minister of Israel (@IsraeliPM) October 7, 2023
The New York Times reports that at least 70 Israelis have been killed and more than 900 have been wounded. Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed and 1,610 have been injured, according to Palestinian officials, as Israel repels the attack and launches airstrikes in response. The number of casualties on both sides is expected to grow in the coming days.
Mohammed Deif, Hamas’ military chief, said thousands of rockets have been fired into Israel. “This is your day to make the enemy understand that his time has ended,” he said. “Everyone who has a gun should take it out. The time has come.” Many of the people killed in the initial wave were Israeli civilians who lived near Gaza.
It is not yet clear how Hamas managed to catch Israel so off-guard. Videos on social media show Palestinian fighters taking Israeli soldiers and civilians hostage, blowing up Israeli military vehicles, and bringing heavy agricultural equipment across the border into Gaza.
The more than two million Palestinians living in Gaza have faced a devastating Israeli blockade, which is joined by Egypt, since Hamas took power in 2007. As the Times reports, the blockade has led to “nearly 50 percent unemployment and deteriorating living conditions, medicine supply and infrastructure.” People in Gaza are largely prevented from leaving the territory. In an interview with the BBC, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy was not surprised that Palestinians in Gaza would want to attack Israel. “Gaza is a cage,” he said, “the biggest prison in the world.” Referring to the blockade, Levy stressed, “People who live now 17 years in a cage want to resist, and if they have the possibility they do it.”
National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement that the United States “unequivocally condemns the unprovoked attacks by Hamas.” She added, “We stand firmly with the Government and people of Israel and extend our condolences for the Israeli lives lost in these attacks.” President Joe Biden said that the United States would support Israel and that he found the attack “appalling.”
In a short briefing, Biden said that he had spoken with Netanyahu and “told him that the United States stands with the people of Israel.” He continued, seeming to address states like Iran who have supportive of Palestine in the past, “Let me say this as clearly as I can: This is not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks to seek advantage. This world is watching.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took a strong position against the assault. “I absolutely condemn the horrifying attack on Israel by Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” Sanders wrote on social media. “There is no justification for this violence, and innocent people on both sides will suffer hugely because of it. It must end now.”