Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed “mighty vengeance” against Hamas after the Palestinian militant group launched a massive surprise attack on Saturday, killing more than 250 Israelis and taking numerous captives.
In a brief video address late Saturday, Netanyahu said Hamas would be held responsible for the well-being of the captives and said Israel would settle the score with anyone who harmed the country or its citizens. Israel already started launching retaliatory air strikes on targets in Gaza early Saturday.
“We will take mighty vengeance for this black day,” Netanyahu said. “All the places where Hamas hides, operates from — we will turn them into cities of ruins.” He said Israel is preparing for a long conflict.
The massive assault unleashed by Iran-backed Hamas early Saturday combined a barrage of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel and dozens of heavily armed gunmen attacking the country’s south from Gaza. It came a day after Israel marked the 50th anniversary of the surprise invasion on Yom Kippur in 1973.
At least 250 Israelis have been killed and 1,100 wounded, making it the deadliest attack in Israel in decades. Nearly 200 people in the Gaza Strip have died and more than 1,600 have been injured in Israeli retaliatory strikes, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. The death toll was expected to rise.
Israeli fighter jets struck two multi-story buildings in Gaza that housed Hamas’s Intelligence headquarters and its weapons production offices, according to media reports citing the Israeli military.
The military wing of Hamas claimed it was holding dozens of Israeli soldiers captive following the incursion, the AP reported. The Israeli military confirmed that a number of Israelis were abducted but would not give a figure. If true, the claim could set the stage for complicated negotiations on a swap with Israel, which is holding thousands of Palestinians in its prisons.
The conflict threatened to escalate to an even deadlier stage with Israel’s vows of greater retaliation.
A major question was whether Israel will launch a ground assault into Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces were bringing four divisions of troops as well as tanks to the Gaza border, joining 31 battalions already in the area, IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters, according to an Associated Press report.
The IDF said earlier Saturday that it was initiating a “large-scale operation to defend Israeli civilians” against Hamas attacks, while Netanyahu said: “The enemy will pay an unprecedented price.”
In Gaza, much of the population was thrown into darkness after nightfall Saturday, as electrical supplies from Israel — which supplies almost all the power — was cut off, the AP reported.
Hamas said it had planned for a potentially drawn-out fight. “We are prepared for all options, including all-out war,” the deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, Saleh al-Arouri, told Al-Jazeera TV. “We are ready to do whatever is necessary for the dignity and freedom of our people.”
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced earlier Saturday that he had given the green light for army reservists to be called up for active service. The country’s defense forces are heavily reliant on 465,000 eligible part-time soldiers, and the number called up will depend on how the situation unfolds, Gallant said.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, meanwhile, invited opposition leaders to form an emergency unity government, his party said in a statement late Saturday. The Likud Party says the proposal was raised in a meeting between Netanyahu and opposition party leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz on Saturday, according to media reports. Lapid has called for an emergency unity government, while Gantz, said he is considering Netanyahu’s offer.
The United Nations Security Council said it would hold a meeting Sunday afternoon to discuss the conflict.