Hamas Stuns the World with Unprecedented Assault on Israel: What You Must Know!

Hamas Stuns the World with Unprecedented Assault on Israel: What You Must Know!

Hamas launches a major surprise attack on Israel, causing hundreds of Israeli casualties Israel retaliates with deadly airstrikes, triggering a formal declaration of war Find out the background, key players' responses, and what lies ahead

The recent surprise attack launched by militants from Gaza on Israel over the weekend has resulted in the loss of many Israeli lives. This has led to a deadly series of Israeli airstrikes in retaliation and an official declaration of war on Sunday.

In a video message, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel is currently engaged in a state of war, emphasizing that this is not merely an operation or a series of rounds. This statement came shortly after the militant group Hamas launched a coordinated attack on Israel, firing rockets and sending gunmen into the country from the Gaza Strip - a move that is unprecedented in the prolonged conflict between the two sides. The ongoing violence has resulted in the loss of over a thousand lives, including over 700 Israelis killed in the Hamas assault and over 400 Palestinians killed as Israel carries out airstrikes in Gaza.

Still unknown are the fates of at least 100 hostages, including Israeli soldiers, that Hamas says it captured.

Heres what we know so far.

What happened?

Around 6:30 a.m. local time on Saturday, when many Israelis were likely to have been asleep, sirens were heard as far as the Tel Aviv area as rockets flew over Israel.

Militants from Gaza infiltrated Israel through various means, including land, sea, and air, the IDF reported.

According to the IDF, approximately 2,200 rockets were launched towards Israel. Hamas, however, claims the number was closer to 5,000. To provide perspective, in the 50-day conflict between Gaza and Israel in 2014, around 4,000 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel.

Hamas' military leader, Muhammad Al-Deif, dubbed the offensive as "Al-Aqsa Storm," citing retaliation against assaults on women, desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and the prolonged siege of Gaza. Hamas claimed to have captured Israeli soldiers, sharing videos on their social media platforms. CNN authenticated and geolocated these videos, indicating that at least one Israeli soldier was indeed captured by the group. In response, the IDF released a list of 44 soldiers who they assert lost their lives during the assault.

Hamas declared on that very day that its militants remained within the confines of southern Israeli cities while asserting their solidarity through launching rocket attacks in the localities of Ofakim, Sderot, Yad Mordechai, Kfar Aza, Beeri, Yated, and Kissufim.

Hamas Stuns the World with Unprecedented Assault on Israel: What You Must Know!

Smoke billows from a residential building following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on Saturday.

Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

How has Israel responded?

Following the attack, Israel initiated "Operation Swords of Iron," conducting targeted strikes on several locations within the Gaza strip. Prime Minister Netanyahu emphasized that Israel's retaliation against the Hamas incursion will demand a significant toll from the group.

The IDF has called on civilians in Gaza to evacuate their residential areas without delay for their own safety, while the Israeli military continues its operations targeting Hamas. Within Gaza, the sound of Israeli warplanes can be heard, followed by powerful explosions and thick columns of black smoke rising into the sky.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza reported that a total of 313 individuals, including 20 children, lost their lives within a span of 24 hours. Furthermore, the ministry stated that 1,990 people sustained injuries. In response, the IDF disclosed that it targeted 426 sites in Gaza on Sunday, asserting that 10 of these were towers utilized by Hamas.

Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based group supported by Iran, has claimed responsibility for targeting three Israeli sites in the Shebaa Farms area in the north. This region is regarded by Lebanon as being under Israeli occupation. In response, Israel retaliated by launching artillery attacks.

Additionally, in the West Bank, which is occupied by Israel, clashes erupted on Saturday when the Israeli army imposed restrictions on West Bank cities. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers during these clashes.

Hamas Stuns the World with Unprecedented Assault on Israel: What You Must Know!

A man carries a crying child as he walks in front of a building destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City.

Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

How did the two sides get here?

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have long persisted, dating back to before the founding of these nations in 1948. The ongoing conflict between the two sides has resulted in the loss of thousands of lives, with many more sustaining injuries over the years.

This year, the violence has reached alarming levels. The occupied West Bank has witnessed the highest number of Palestinian casualties in almost twenty years, comprising both militants and civilians, at the hands of Israeli forces. Similarly, Israeli and foreign casualties, mostly innocent civilians, have also reached the highest levels due to Palestinian attacks.

Dating back to the 1987 First Palestinian Intifada, Israel and Hamas have been engaged in armed conflict. The conflict stems from Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In 1967, Israel seized control of Gaza from Egypt in a war, later withdrawing in 2005. With a population of approximately 2 million Palestinians, Gaza came under Hamas' rule in 2007 following a short civil war with Fatah, a rival Palestinian faction that forms the basis of the Palestinian Authority.

Since Hamas took over Gaza, the territory has been subjected to a continuous strict siege imposed by Israel and Egypt. Additionally, Israel has enforced an air and naval blockade on Gaza.

The most recent conflict between Hamas and Israel occurred in 2021, lasting 11 days and resulting in the deaths of at least 250 individuals in Gaza and 13 individuals in Israel.

The assault on Saturday took place on the 50th anniversary of the 1973 war, when neighboring Arab nations of Israel initiated a sudden attack on Yom Kippur, the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar, on October 6, 1973.

Hamas Stuns the World with Unprecedented Assault on Israel: What You Must Know!

An Israeli woman donates blood at a hospital in Tel Aviv.

Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

What is Hamas?

The birth of Hamas can be traced back to 1987 when it emerged as an Islamist organization with a military wing. It originated from the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist group established in Egypt during the late 1920s.

The term "Hamas" stands for "Harakat Al-Muqawama Al-Islamia" in Arabic, translating to Islamic Resistance Movement. Similar to other Palestinian factions and political parties, the group asserts that Israel is an occupying force and strives to free the Palestinian territories. It views Israel as an illegitimate nation. Due to its refusal to acknowledge Israel, the organization has historically declined participation in peace negotiations. In 1993, Hamas opposed the Oslo Accords, a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Presenting itself as an alternative to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has recognized and participated in failed peace initiatives with Israel, the group aims to differentiate itself. Led by Mahmoud Abbas and based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the PA currently governs the region. Throughout the years, Hamas has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on Israel and has been officially labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, and Israel. Additionally, Israel accuses Iran, its longstanding adversary, of providing support to Hamas.

Hamas Stuns the World with Unprecedented Assault on Israel: What You Must Know!

A member of Israeli security forces tries to extinguish fire on cars following a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, southern Israel.

Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

What is al-Aqsa?

The al-Aqsa compound holds great significance in Islam and Judaism, being regarded as one of their most revered locations. It is known as Al Haram Al Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) by Muslims and as Temple Mount by Jews. Over the years, this sacred site has become a source of intense conflict and tension between Israel and the Palestinians. In an attempt to safeguard the holy site, Hamas claims to have initiated the "Al-Aqsa Storm" assault on Saturday.

Only Muslims are permitted to pray within the compound according to an established status quo agreement dating back over a century. Non-Muslim visitors have limited access to specific areas of the complex during designated times. However, concerns have arisen in the Muslim community regarding the potential erosion of their exclusive worship rights and the perceived threats posed by an expanding far-right Jewish movement and Israel's far-right government towards the sacred sites.

Frequent clashes have occurred at the site between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli forces. The compound has been raided by the police multiple times in the past year.

The complex is located in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians view as the capital of their future state and is seen by the international community as occupied territory. Israel gained control of East Jerusalem from Jordan during the six-day war in 1967 and considers both East and West Jerusalem to be its unified and everlasting capital.

What are key regional players saying?

Western states condemned the Hamas attack and pledged support for Israel while Arab states, including those that have recognized Israel, called for calm.

President Joe Biden of the United States expressed his condemnation of the deplorable attack carried out by Hamas terrorists from Gaza against Israel during his conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday.

During the discussion, President Biden assured Prime Minister Netanyahu that the United States is prepared to provide all necessary assistance to the Israeli government and its people.

Hamas Stuns the World with Unprecedented Assault on Israel: What You Must Know!

An aerial view shows vehicles on fire as rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon.

Saudi Arabia, currently engaged in negotiations with the US to explore the possibility of establishing normalized relations with Israel, has expressed its close attention to the "unprecedented" situation. In a statement issued by the Saudi foreign ministry on X, it urges both parties involved to promptly cease the ongoing escalation.

Israel's enemies celebrated the attack. Major General Rahim Safavi, an advisor to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, expressed congratulations to the Palestinian fighters and pledged support until the liberation of Palestine and holy Jerusalem, as reported by state-run ISNA. Hezbollah also commended the attacks and stated that they are in communication with Palestinian militant groups both domestically and internationally, according to its Al Manar channel.

What happens next?

The IDF is now focusing on taking control of the Gaza Strip.

"The main focus for us currently is achieving stability and control in the Gaza Strip," Hecht stated during a briefing on Sunday.

"Our objectives for the next 12 hours entail bringing an end to the conflict in Gaza. We aim to establish full control over the entire region and eradicate all terrorist elements within our territory," he conveyed, mentioning that the IDF will also make efforts to relocate specific communities within Gaza.

Israel's Minister of Defense, Yoav Gallant, has extended the scope of the country's "special security situation" to encompass the entire territory of Israel. The move allows the IDF to issue security directives to civilians and shut down public locations when necessary for safety purposes, according to the minister's office. Previously, a "special security situation" area had been created within an 80-kilometer (48-mile) radius of the Gaza Strip on Saturday.

Hecht mentioned that the Israeli cabinet will be presented with multiple potential next steps by the IDF during their meeting on Sunday. According to Hecht, the government is expected to make a decision either on Sunday or Monday.

Saleh al-Arouri, a prominent Hamas member, stated on Al Jazeera Arabic on Saturday that Hamas is prepared for various possibilities, including engaging in a war and escalating tensions on all fronts.

"We are fully prepared for the worst-case scenario, including a potential ground invasion, as it would provide us with the opportunity to determine the outcome of this battle," al-Arouri stated.