Palestinian fighters from the Hamas group launched a surprise attack on Israel on Saturday, killing more than 20 people and capturing an Israeli tank and several soldiers. The attack involved gunmen entering Israeli towns near the border with Gaza after a barrage of rockets fired from the coastal enclave.
Videos circulating on social media showed Palestinians celebrating on top of the burning tank and dragging the body of an Israeli soldier out of the vehicle. Unconfirmed reports claimed that Palestinian fighters had abducted Israeli soldiers and taken them back to the Gaza Strip.
The attack was part of the Hamas “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood”, which aimed to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza and avenge the recent storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex by Israeli settlers. Hamas said it had launched more than 5,000 rockets into Israel, while Israel said it had intercepted more than 2,200 rockets.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was at “war” and vowed to retaliate with “full force”. He said Hamas had declared war on Israel and that his enemy would pay a price “the type of which it has never known”.
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza has been escalating since March 2018, when Palestinian protests began at Gaza’s fenced border with Israel. Israeli troops opened fire to keep protesters back, killing more than 170 Palestinians in several months of protests. The protests also prompted fighting between Hamas and Israeli forces.