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Gaza-Israel: Palestinians launch surprise assault in response to Al-Aqsa Mosque raids

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declares 'we are at war' after Palestinian fighters infiltrate southern Israel and launch barrage of rocket attacks
Palestinians take control of an Israeli tank after crossing the border fence with Israel from Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on 7 October 2023 (AFP)

Palestinian fighters infiltrated Israel in a major assault from Gaza on Saturday, leaving at least 40 Israelis dead in the biggest attack by Palestinian groups in decades.

At least 198 Palestinians have been killed and 1,610 wounded in Israeli airstrike on Gaza, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Mohammad Deif, the leader of Hamas's military wing, said the operation was launched in response to Israel's continued aggression on Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque.

For the past week, thousands of Israeli settlers have been carrying out provocative tours of the mosque complex following calls by ultranationalist Jewish groups.

"They [Israeli forces] consistently assault our women, the elderly, children and [the] youth; and prevent our people from praying in the Aqsa Mosque while allowing groups of Jews to desecrate the mosque with daily incursions," he said.

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Deif said as many as 5,000 rockets were fired into Israel, with Israeli media reporting explosions across the country, including in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. 

The Palestinian group Islamic Jihad said that its members had joined the fighting alongside Hamas.

Israel's medical services reported that 740 Israelis have been wounded in the attacks. 

Palestinian media said some Israelis had been taken hostage, while an Israeli army spokesman said there had been casualties but could not give a precise figure, declining to comment on the reports of hostage taking.

According to Israeli media, Palestinian fighters in the southern Israeli town of Sderot had opened fire on passers-by. Footage circulating online appeared to show open clashes on the streets. 

Israel's police chief said there were 21 "active confrontation locations in southern Israel" with army special forces present.

Later, the Israeli military said Israel was in a state of war and authorities had launched air strikes on Gaza.

The Israeli army said its jets had struck Hamas targets in Gaza and thousands of reservists were being called up.

Israeli areas attacked by Palestinians, 7 October 2023 (MEE)

Army spokesman Richard Hecht said the Israeli military was also watching the situation on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, from where Palestinian fighters had fired rockets at Israel in another flare-up this year.

"It was a combined ground raid which happened through paragliders, through the sea and through the ground," Hecht told reporters.

"Right now we're fighting. We're fighting in certain locations around the Gaza Strip... our forces are now fighting on the ground" in Israel, he added.

Palestinian attack on Israel: What we know
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Three hours after the offensive began, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that: "we are at war, this is not an operation."

The escalation is the most serious bout of violence since 2021, and follows weeks of tensions on the border with Gaza, which has been under siege by Israel and Egypt since 2007.

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Gaza's inhabitants live precariously, with little access to clean drinking water, crippling power shortages and unsuitable healthcare and education systems.

Roughly 97 percent of Gaza's drinking water is contaminated, and residents are forced to live with constant power outages due to a power grid that has been heavily damaged in repeated Israeli attacks.

According to UNRWA, the UN agency that cares for Palestinian refugees, years of conflict and blockade have left 80 percent of Gaza's population dependent on international assistance.

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