Palestinian militants fired barrages of rockets into southern and central Israel on Saturday in a surprise attack, and the Israeli military said that armed gunmen had crossed the border fence in several locations and infiltrated Israeli border communities.
At least one woman was killed in the initial barrages, according to Israel’s ambulance service.
The assault began without any warning at about 6:30 a.m. on the Jewish Sabbath and the morning of a festival, the last of the series of Jewish high holidays. It was almost 50 years to the day after the surprise attack by Egyptian and Syrian forces over Israel’s northern and southern frontiers at the opening of the 1973 war that traumatized the nation.
Within the first hour of the attack, salvos of rockets had slammed into Israeli towns and cities, striking as far north as Rishon LeZion, about 10 miles south of Tel Aviv, and Ramla, near Israel’s international airport. Sirens also sounded in central Jerusalem on Saturday morning, and loud booms could be heard.
Unverified images on television showed armed gunmen in a pickup truck shooting inside an Israeli community as well as at least one hang-glider in the sky.
The Israeli military attributed the assault to Hamas, the militant organization that controls the Gaza Strip, an impoverished coastal enclave that has been under blockade by Israel and neighboring Egypt for about 15 years.
“The Hamas terrorist organization will pay heavy price for its actions,” the Israeli military said in a statement.
Al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, announced a military operation “in defense of the Aqsa mosque,” the hotly contested holy site in Jerusalem that thousands of Jews have visited in recent weeks, and against the Israeli blockade imposed on Gaza.
The militants who crossed the border into Israeli territory were armed with heavy machine guns, submachine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, according to Israeli media reports, and were firing at pedestrians, cars and houses.
The ambulance service, Magen David Adom, issued an urgent call for blood and was organizing a special blood donation drive at a hospital in central Tel Aviv.
Reporting was contributed by Jonathan Rosen from Jerusalem, Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel, and Iyad Abuheweila from Cairo.