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Jerusalem: Palestinian gunmen have infiltrated areas of southern Israel and rocket barrages were launched from the Gaza Strip on Saturday in a surprise attack claimed by the Islamist movement Hamas.
Mohammad Deif, a senior Hamas military commander, announced the start of the operation in a recorded message broadcast on Hamas media, calling on Palestinians everywhere to fight.
“This is the day of the greatest battle end the last occupation on earth,” he said, adding that 5000 rockets had been launched. “Enough is enough.”
Israeli firefighters extinguish fire after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a parking lot in Ashkelon, southern Israel, on Saturday.Credit: AP
One Israeli woman was killed, according to emergency services, as ambulance crews were deployed in areas around the Gaza Strip and sirens sounded across Israel, including Jerusalem.
Israeli media reported that gunmen had opened fire on passersby in the town of Sderot, in southern Israel, and footage circulating on social media appeared to show clashes in city streets.
Israel began striking targets in Gaza in response, setting the stage for what was likely to be a new heavy round of fighting between the bitter enemies.
Rockets are fired toward Israel from Gaza, on Saturday.Credit: AP
Videos posted on social media showed what appeared to be uniformed Palestinian gunmen inside the Israeli border town of Sderot. A video from Gaza showed what looked like the lifeless body of an Israeli soldier being trampled by an angry crowd shouting “God is Great”. Another video appeared to show Palestinian militants dragging away a live Israeli soldier on a motorcycle. Other videos showed a crowd of Palestinian men dancing around and atop an Israeli tank that was on fire. The authenticity of the videos could not immediately be verified.
“A number of terrorists have infiltrated into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip,” the military said in a statement, adding that residents in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip had been told to stay in their homes.
“The Israeli Defence Forces will defend Israeli civilians and the Hamas terrorist organisation will pay heavy price for its actions,” it said.
A statement said the Israeli Defence Minister had approved a callout for military reservists.
Israeli firefighters extinguish fire after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a parking lot in Ashkelon.Credit: AP
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he would meet top security officials in the coming hours.
The violence erupted a day after Hamas, which rules Gaza, said that the “people had to draw a line to end the occupation” and added that Israel continued to commit crimes across Palestinian land, and especially on the holy site of al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.
Similar tension around the al-Aqsa mosque started a round of confrontations earlier this year.
In Gaza the roar of launches could be heard and residents reported armed clashes along the separation fence with Israel, near the southern town of Khan Younis and said they had seen significant movement of armed fighters.
Israel’s ambulance service said teams had been dispatched to areas in southern Israel near Gaza and residents were warned to stay inside.
Salah Arouri, an exiled Hamas leader, said the operation was a response “to the crimes of the occupation.” He said fighters were defending the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
The Israeli military confirmed an infiltration had occurred in several locations near the Gaza border in southern Israel. It ordered residents to remain indoors.
“The military declares a state of war alert,” it said in a statement. “In the last hour, the Hamas terrorist organiaation had begun a massive shooting of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, and terrorists infiltrated into Israeli territory in a number of different locations.” It said Hamas “will face the consequences and responsibility”.
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