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Around 1,000 dead in Israel-Hamas war, as Lebanon’s Hezbollah also launches strikes

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The Middle Eastern conflict’s bloodiest escalation in decades saw Hamas carry out a massive rocket barrage and ground, air and sea offensive on Saturday.

The death toll in Israel surged to over 600, the Israeli government said on Sunday.

A screengrab from a social media video on Saturday shows Noa Argamani as she is taken hostage by Palestinian militants at an unknown location. Photo: Screengrab via Reuters

Another 2,048 people were wounded, according to Tel Aviv’s Health Ministry, with around 200 in critical condition.

The death toll in the Gaza Strip rose to 370, the health ministry in the Palestinian enclave said on Sunday, as Israel launched air strikes on Hamas targets for the second consecutive day, hitting housing blocks, tunnels, a mosque and homes of Hamas officials.

The Hamas-controlled ministry said 2,200 were injured. More than 20,000 Palestinians in Gaza have sought refuge in schools run by the United Nations, said the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency.

Over 100 people were being held as “prisoners” by Hamas, Israel said, with captives including women and children, who Hamas is likely to try to trade for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Tel Aviv.

Supporters of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement take to the streets in Beirut on Sunday in support of the attack on Israel by Hamas militants. Photo: AFP

An Israeli military spokesperson said that two hostage situations had been “resolved” but did not say whether all hostages had been rescued alive.

The Israeli government’s press office posted the latest Israeli death toll on Facebook, confirmed to AFP by an official at the bureau who declined to be named.

Among the Palestinian dead was high-ranking Hamas leader Ayman Younis.

A French national was also killed, while several others were missing, Paris said on Sunday. Two Thais and a Cambodian were also among the dead.

As fighting raged Sunday, Iran said it supports the legitimate defence of the Palestinian nation, said Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, according to Tasnim news agency, adding that “the Zionist regime and its supporters are responsible for instability in the region”.

Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement said it had fired “large numbers of artillery shells and guided missiles” at Israeli positions in contested border areas “in solidarity” with Hamas.

Israel’s army had earlier said it fired artillery on southern Lebanon in response to a shot from the area without identifying the attackers.

“We are embarking on a long and difficult war that was forced on us by a murderous Hamas attack,” Netanyahu said on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday.

Overnight Israel battered the Gaza Strip with air strikes as rockets from the blockaded Palestinian territory rained on Israel.

Gunfire, rockets and carnage: Israelis stunned by Hamas attack

On Sunday gun battles raged between Israeli forces and hundreds of Hamas fighters, including at the Sderot police station across the border from Gaza.

Police and Israeli army special forces “neutralised 10 armed terrorists” who were holed up inside the station, a police statement said.

The bloody air, sea and land attack launched on Saturday by Hamas came half a century after the outbreak of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, taking Israel and the world by surprise.

As the UN Security Council called an emergency meeting for Sunday, President Joe Biden voiced “rock solid and unwavering” support for the US ally and warned “against any other party hostile to Israel seeking advantage in this situation”.

Israeli artillery in northern Israel bordering Lebanon. Photo: AFP

China’s foreign ministry called for the long-discussed two-state solution and the “establishment of an independent Palestinian State”.

The Israeli army said overnight its forces were still engaged in gun battles in a string of Israel locations, in an operation labelled “Swords of Iron”, as reservists were being called up.

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari confirmed that soldiers and civilians had been kidnapped.

The fighting prompted Israel to cut off Gaza’s electricity, fuel and goods supplies, Netanyahu said.

Shock attack on Israel imperils region, risking multi-arena war

The Islamist group started the multipronged attack around 6.30am on Saturday with thousands of rockets aimed as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, some bypassing the Iron Dome defence system and hitting buildings.

Hamas fighters – travelling in ground vehicles, motorised paragliders and boats – breached Gaza’s security barrier and attacked nearby Israeli towns and military posts, opening fire on residents and passers-by.

Bodies were strewn on the streets of the Israeli town of Sderot near Gaza and inside cars, windscreens shattered by a hail of bullets.

“I saw many bodies, of terrorists and civilians,” one man said, standing beside covered corpses on a road near Gevim Kibbutz in southern Israel.

Rockets fired from Gaza City being intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome system. Photo: AFP

“So many bodies, so many bodies.”

Israeli army Major General Ghasan Alyan warned Hamas had “opened the gates of hell”.

Israel struck 426 targets in Gaza, its military said, flattening residential buildings in giant explosions. That included a 14-storey tower that held dozens of flats as well as Hamas offices in central Gaza City. Israeli forces fired a warning just before.

Israel’s military was bringing four divisions of troops as well as tanks to the Gaza border, joining 31 battalions already in the area, a spokesperson said.

Palestinians search for casualties under the rubble of a house destroyed in Israeli strikes in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Reuters

The escalation follows months of rising violence, mostly in the occupied West Bank, and tensions around Gaza’s border and at contested holy sites in Jerusalem.

Before Saturday, at least 247 Palestinians, 32 Israelis and two foreigners had been killed this year, including combatants and civilians, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials.

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

Its armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, claimed to have fired over 5,000 rockets, while Hecht said Israel had counted more than 3,000 incoming rockets.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said the group was on the “verge of a great victory”, vowing to press ahead with “the battle to liberate our land and our prisoners languishing in occupation prisons”.

Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, leading to Israel’s crippling blockade of the impoverished enclave of 2.3 million people.

Israel and Hamas have since fought several wars. The last major military exchange, in May, killed 34 Palestinians and one Israeli.

2 Israeli tourists and Egyptian guide shot dead in Egypt ‘by policeman’

Violence also erupted across the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, with five Palestinians killed and 120 wounded in clashes with Israeli forces and settlers, Palestinian medical services said.

Countries around the world condemned the wave of attacks by Hamas, which Israel, the United States and European Union consider a terrorist group.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the attack “terrorism in its most despicable form”.

Speaking to the BBC, Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said there had been direct support for the attack from Tehran.

UK man missing, 2 Thais, 1 Cambodian killed in Israel-Hamas violence

While UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland called on all sides to “pull back from the brink”, a policeman opened fire on a group of Israeli tourists in the Egyptian city of Alexandria on Sunday, killing two holidaymakers and a local guide.

Several major airlines have cancelled flights to Tel Aviv.

Additional reporting by dpa, Associated Press, Reuters

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