Hamas claims enough Israeli prisoners to free all Palestinians, calls for all-out war
Meanwhile, Israel has launched Operation Iron Swords against Hamas' Operation Al-Aqsa Flood
On the evening of 7 October, the Israeli army confirmed in a statement that there were hostage situations in the kibbutzes of Ofakim and Be'eri, with special forces involved in 'live firefights', after the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched 'Operation Al-Aqsa Flood' this morning and attacked the border on the Gaza Strip.
This is the most serious escalation between Israel and the Hamas since they fought an 11-day war in 2021, a media report said.
Daniel Hagari, an Israeli army spokesperson, said that Hamas the group attacked from land, sea and air. Hamas claimed to have fired 5,000 rockets into Israeli territory, while Israel's army spoke of having launched 'Operation Iron Swords', according to an Al Jazeera report.
The early-morning attacks occurred on Simchat Torah, a holiday which falls towards the conclusion of the week-long Jewish festival known as Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles.
The rockets were fired as far north as Tel Aviv. Hamas also sent fighters into southern Israel, Al Jazeera reported.
Israeli media said that gunmen had opened fire on passersby in the town of Sderot, and footage circulating on social media appeared to show clashes in city streets as well as gunmen in jeeps roaming the countryside. Photos of bodies littering the streets have also emerged.
One report claimed Hamas fighters had taken control of multiple Israeli civilian population centres, where residents were begging for help from their government, Al Jazeera reported.
At least 70 people in Israel have been confirmed killed, with hundreds of others being treated in hospitals, according to emergency services.
The Israeli army meanwhile said dozens of fighter jets were carrying out attacks on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Nearly 200 people have been killed in the retaliatory strikes, the BBC reported, citing officials there.
Dozens of Israelis are believed to have been captured by Palestinian militants and are being held hostage, the BBC also reported.
A senior Hamas leader said that the group had captured "enough" Israeli soldiers to make Israeli authorities free all Palestinian prisoners in its jails, a media report said.
"We managed to kill and capture many Israeli soldiers. The fighting is still on," Saleh al-Arouri, deputy chief of Hamas' political bureau, told Al Jazeera on Saturday. "Our detainees in (Israeli) prisons, their freedom is looming large. What we have in our hands will release all our prisoners. The longer fighting continues, the higher the number of prisoners will become."
Nearly 5,200 Palestinians are in Israeli jails, including 33 women and 170 minors, with more than 1,200 in administrative detention, Al Jazeera reported, citing the latest figures by Addameer, a prisoners' rights NGO.
Hamas commander Mohammed Deif claimed the Palestinian militant group had "decided to say enough is enough".
Speaking to Al Jazeera, al-Arouri continued, saying the group was engaged in a battle for freedom.
"This is not a (hit-and-run) operation; we started an all-out battle. We expect fighting to continue and the fighting front to expand. We have one prime target: our freedom and the freedom of our holy sites," he told the media outlet.
For their part, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that they have carried out airstrikes on two high-rise towers in the Gaza Strip that were used to house Hamas assets, per a media report.
“The Hamas terrorist organisation deliberately places its military assets in the heart of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said, per a Times of Israel report.
"Prior to the strike, the IDF provided advance warning to the occupants of the building and asked them to evacuate,” the military added.
The Hamas group has threatened to launch rockets at Tel Aviv in response, the Times of Israel continued in its report.
In a message shared on social media this morning, Deif had called for widespread attacks to "sweep away the occupation", the Jerusalem Post reported.
Deif claimed that "we have warned the enemy", adding that Israel had attacked Muslims and "desecrated al-Aqsa". This was a reference to recent incidents in Jerusalem that have occurred during the high holidays, also widely shared on social media.
Deif called on Arabs and Muslims to carry out attacks on Israel in the West Bank and in Israel. "Our righteous mujahideen, this is your day to make the enemy understand that his time is over. They attacked and desecrated Al-Aqsa, and we had previously warned them," he said in the video.
He called for Palestinians to "organise their operations against the settlements and sweep away the occupier", according to the video posted online at Al-Mayadeen and other sites.
He urged "our people in Jerusalem to move and ignite the ground under the feet of the occupation", calling on people "in the Negev, the Galilee, and the Triangle to move and confront the occupier everywhere", the Jerusalem Post reported. The Triangle refers to the area of Ummal-Fahm and Wadi Ara in central Israel.
Deif also called on Palestinians to attack Israel with whatever weapons they could find: "Bring out their guns today, and whoever does not have a gun, let him bring out a knife, a cleaver, or an axe."
He said Palestinians should "carry out your attacks on the settlements with all the means and tools at your disposal".
Deif has called the operation a 'storm' or 'flood' to strike Israel. Deif has been a commander in the Hamas many years and was targeted by Israel in the past, the Jerusalem Post reported. Reports have noted that with his own 7-year-old son and wife killed by Israeli forces, Deif literally has nothing to lose.
With IANS inputs