Aftermath of the attacks on Israel in Ashkelon

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Smoke billows in the sky, some of it from a chimney, as rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip on October 7, 2023. [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

Published On 7 Oct 2023

Israel says it is “at war” after Hamas launched a large-scale military operation against the country, saying it was in response to the desecration of Al-Aqsa Mosque and increased settler violence.

The group running the besieged Gaza Strip fired thousands of rockets as dozens of Hamas fighters infiltrated the heavily fortified border in several locations, catching the country off-guard on a major holiday. The surprise operation comes after thousands of Israeli settlers in recent days carried out provocative tours of the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in occupied East Jerusalem during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Six hours after the invasion began at daybreak on Saturday, Hamas fighters were still fighting gun battles inside several Israeli communities. Israel says at least 22 people have been killed and hundreds wounded.

The infiltration of fighters into southern Israel marked a major escalation by Hamas that forced millions of Israelis to hunker down in safe rooms. Cities and towns emptied as the military closed roads near Gaza. Israel’s rescue service and the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza appealed to the public to donate blood.

“We understand that this is something big,” Lt Col Richard Hecht, an Israeli army spokesman, told reporters. He said the Israeli military had called up the army reserves.

Hecht declined to comment on how Hamas had managed to catch the army off-guard. “That’s a good question,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Israel was “at war” and called for a mass mobilisation of army reserves. The invasion revived memories of the 1973 war practically 50 years to the day.

ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS/Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon

An aerial view shows vehicles on fire as rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, on October 7, 2023. [Ilan Rosenberg/Reuters]

Israel Palestinians

Israeli security forces evacuate an injured woman from a site hit by a rocket. Gaza's Hamas militant group launched thousands of rockets on Saturday as it said it was opening a broad military operation against Israel. [Oren Ziv/AP Photo]

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Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, as seen from Ashkelon. [Sinan Abu Mayzer/Reuters]

Israel Palestinians

Police officers evacuate a woman and child from a site hit by a rocket in Ashkelon. Cities and towns emptied as the military closed roads near Gaza. Israel's rescue service and the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza appealed to the public to donate blood. [Tsafrir Abayov/AP Photo]

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A man in Ashkelon works to put out a fire engulfing a van, as rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip. [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

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A man wearing a Jewish prayer shawl looks out of a damaged entrance to a building. [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

Israel Palestinians

Cars burn after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a parking lot and a residential building in Ashkelon. [Tsafrir Abayov/AP Photo]

Israel Palestinians

Israeli police officers evacuate a family from a site hit by a rocket in Ashkelon. [Tsafrir Abayov/AP Photo]

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A man photographs a remnant of a rocket launched from Gaza that is lying on the ground, in Ashkelon. [Amir Cohen/Reuters]

Israel Palestinians

Israeli soldiers head south near Ashkelon as Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip infiltrated southern Israel and fired thousands of rockets into the country while Israel began attacking targets in Gaza in response. [Ohad Zwigenberg/AP Photo]

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