Home world Israel, Gaza reel as death toll soars above 1,000 in war with Hamas

Israel, Gaza reel as death toll soars above 1,000 in war with Hamas

Israel, Gaza reel as death toll soars above 1,000 in war with Hamas
Published October 9, 2023 Updated October 9, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

SDEROT (Israel) — Israel, reeling from the deadliest-ever attack on its territory, declared war on Hamas on Sunday (Oct 8) as the conflict’s death toll surged above 1,000 after the Palestinian militant group launched a massive surprise assault from Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu steeled the shocked and grieving nation for a “long and difficult” war a day after Hamas fired a barrage of thousands of rockets at Israel and sent a wave of fighters who gunned down civilians and took at least 100 hostages. 

The bloody escalation sharply heightened Middle East tensions and killed more than 600 people on the Israeli side, the country’s worst losses since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when it was attacked by a coalition led by Egypt and Syria in battles fought in occupied territories.

“Israel was caught flat-footed by the unprecedented attack,” said Jonathan Panikoff, director of the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative. “I’ve heard multiple comparisons to 9/11, and many Israelis are struggling to understand how this could have happened.”

Gaza officials reported at least 413 deaths in the impoverished and blockaded enclave of 2.3 million people, which was hammered by Israeli air strikes on 800 targets ahead of what many feared may be a looming ground invasion.

United States (US) President Joe Biden ordered “additional support for Israel in the face of this unprecedented terrorist assault by Hamas”.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington “will be rapidly providing the Israel Defense Forces with additional equipment and resources, including munitions”. 

Mr Austin also said he had directed the USS Gerald R Ford aircraft carrier and group of warships to the eastern Mediterranean, and that Washington was augmenting fighter aircraft squadrons in the region.

Hamas charged that US aid amounted to “aggression” against Palestinians.

Several foreign countries have reported nationals killed, abducted or missing in the fighting, among them Brazil, Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Nepal, Thailand, Ukraine and the United States.

Tens of thousands of Israeli forces were deployed to battle holdout Hamas fighters in the south, where the bodies of civilians had been found strewn on roads and in town centres.

“The enemy is still on the ground,” said military spokesman Daniel Hagari as a second night fell after the massive opening attack.

Gun battles raged as the Israeli army sought to secure desert regions near the coastal enclave, rescue hostages and evacuate all areas near Gaza, after the cabinet formally declared war by activating Article 40 of the Basic Law. 

“We’ll reach each and every community until we kill every terrorist in Israel,” vowed Mr Hagari, a day after Hamas fighters surged into Israel using vehicles, boats and motorised paragliders.


Shock and dismay gripped Israel after at least 100 citizens were captured by Hamas and abducted into Gaza, with images circulating on social media of bloodied hostages, and distraught relatives pleading for their release or rescue.

Ms Yifat Zailer, 37, said she was horrified to see online video footage from Gaza that showed her female cousin and the woman’s children, aged nine months and three years. 

“That’s the only confirmation we have,” she told AFP, her voice breaking with emotion, and added there was no information on her cousin’s husband and her elderly parents.

“After the army took control of the kibbutz, they weren’t at home,” she said. “We assume they were kidnapped… We want to know what their condition is, we want them to return safely. They’re innocent civilians.”

Israel also came under attack from the north when Lebanon’s Hezbollah launched guided missiles and artillery shells Sunday “in solidarity” with the unprecedented Hamas offensive, without causing any casualties. 

Israel responded with artillery strikes across the UN-patrolled border. “We recommend Hezbollah not to come into this,” said army spokesman Richard Hecht. “If they come, we are ready.”

Israel was stunned when Hamas launched their multi-pronged offensive on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, raining down at least 3,000 rockets as fighters infiltrated towns and kibbutz communities and stormed an outdoor rave party where many revellers were shot dead.

Panicked Israeli residents phoned media outlets as they hid in their homes, whispering that militants were going door to door and shooting civilians or dragging them away.


Global concern has mounted, with Western capitals condemning the attack by Hamas, which Washington and Brussels consider a terrorist group.

Israel’s foes have praised the assault, including Iran whose President Ebrahim Raisi voiced support when he spoke with the leaders of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group.

Anti-Israel protests have flared in Iraq, Pakistan and some other majority Muslim countries, while Germany and France were among nations stepping up security around Jewish temples and schools.

In the Egyptian city of Alexandria, a police officer opened fire “at random” on Israeli tourists Sunday, killing two of them and their Egyptian guide before he was arrested.

Israel’s National Security Council urged its citizens to leave Egypt “as soon as possible” and avoid non-essential travel, especially in the Middle East. 

Mr Netanyahu — who leads a hard-right coalition government but has received pledges of support from political opponents during Israel’s national emergency — has vowed to turn Hamas hideouts “to rubble” and urged Palestinians there to flee.

“We are embarking on a long and difficult war that was forced on us by a murderous Hamas attack,” Mr Netanyahu wrote on X, formerly Twitter, pledging no “respite” until victory.

Israeli attacks have reduced several Gaza residential towers to rubble and destroyed a mosque in Gaza’s Khan Yunis as well as the central bank.

Schools were closed and many flights were cancelled to Ben Gurion airport amid the fighting, as the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s main TA-35 index fell 6.47 per cent and UEFA postponed an Israel-Switzerland Euro 2024 qualifier match. 


Hamas has labelled its attack “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” and called on “resistance fighters in the West Bank” and “Arab and Islamic nations” to join the battle.

Its attack came half a century after the outbreak of the 1973 conflict called the Yom Kippur War in Israel, sparking bitter recriminations for what was widely seen as an enormous intelligence failure.

“There was a very bad failure here,” said Sderot resident Yaakov Shoshani, 70. “The Yom Kippur War was small compared to it, and I was a soldier in the Yom Kippur War.”

He recalled the terror of the attack on their town near Gaza. 

“I held a kitchen knife and a large screwdriver, and I told my wife that, if something happens, to make sure to read the Kaddish (prayer) over me, if you stay alive,” he said. “And so we stayed close to each other at home, shut everything and turned off the lights.”

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh has predicted “victory” and vowed to press ahead with “the battle to liberate our land and our prisoners languishing in occupation prisons”.

An Israeli survivor of the attack on Sderot, Mr Yitzhak, 67, said he now expected the army to “conquer Gaza house by house, clean the area there properly, and not leave Gaza until they get the very last rocket out of the ground”. 

Many Gaza residents voiced defiance. “We will not give up, and we are here to stay,” said Mohammed Saq Allah, 23. “This is our land, and we will not abandon our land.” AFP