Israeli military spokesperson confirms Hamas militants holding Israeli civilians, soldiers hostage
FOX News foreign correspondent Trey Yingst reports from Southern Israel on the latest news emerging from the ground.
Israel’s military forces have opened up fighting in nearly two dozen locations along the Gaza border after Hamas terrorists launched thousands of rockets into Israel on Saturday morning.
“There is no community in Southern Israel where we do not have forces, in all the towns,” Israel Defense Force (IDF) Spokesperson Daniel Hagari said in a statement Saturday evening. “There are communities that have been rid of terrorists, but we want to finish additional scans of the area before declaring so.”
Iranian-backed Hamas terrorists invaded areas of southern Israel as rocket barrages launched from the Gaza Strip struck the area on Saturday, killing at least 100 Israelis and wounding at least 985 others.
A senior Hamas military commander, Mohammad Deif, announced the start of the operation in which he called on Palestinians everywhere to attack the Israelis, saying in a broadcast on Hamas media that the group launched thousands of rockets and calling the attack “the day of the greatest battle to end the last occupation on earth.”
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A map of locations in Israel hit by Hamas rockets on Saturday morning. (Fox News)
Reports on the number of rockets have ranged from 2,100 to 5,000 – the former reported by the IDF and the latter claimed by Deif in his initial announcement.
The IDF claimed to have blocked many of the rockets with the country’s robust missile defense system Iron Dome. A retaliatory strike on Hamas targets has resulted in at least 198 Palestinians killed, according to Gaza health officials.
In a video message early Saturday morning, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Citizens of Israel, we are at war — not in an operation, not in rounds — at war.” Netanyahu’s office said he would meet top security officials in the coming hours to address the operation.
Israeli soldiers head south near Ashkelon, Israel, Israel, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Following Netanyahu’s comments, the IDF announced the initiation of “Operation Swords of Iron,” which is the name for its “large-scale operation to defend Israeli civilians against the combined attack launched against Israel by Hamas this morning.
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Hagari said that the IDF has fought Hamas militants in 22 locations, with “hostage situations” in the cities of Ofakim and Beeri. The IDF has deployed special forces to those cities, where “live fire fighting” has broken out.
Cars burn after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a parking lot and a residential building in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. The rockets were fired as Hamas announced a new operation against Israel. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
“Dozens of terrorists infiltrated on foot a large number of locations,” Hagari explained. “There was also a naval infiltration bringing the terrorists to Zikim, there are also a large number of breaches in the security fence.”
The IDF said it aims to kill all the Hamas agents who attacked Israel today, and Hagari urged Israeli residents to shelter in place until the threat has been cleared. U.S. Embassy staff in Israel are also sheltering in place.
Israeli security forces evacuate an injured woman from a site hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
Israel has also mobilized its reserve forces with four divisions headed immediately for Gaza along with tanks and other artillery to deal with mortar strikes and potential new rocket attacks.
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“Wherever there are Hamas terrorists they will be found and eliminated, they have no immunity,” Hagari said. “We are also striking high profile targets.”
Palestinian militants drive back to the Gaza Strip with the body of an Israeli soldier on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. The militant Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip carried out an unprecedented, multi-front attack on Israel at daybreak Saturday, firing thousands of rockets as dozens of Hamas fighters infiltrated the heavily fortified border in several locations by air, land, and sea and catching the country off-guard on a major holiday. (AP Photo/Ali Mahmud)
He also promised that the IDF and Israeli government will conduct a “sharp and thorough” review as to how this attack occurred after the forces achieve “full security in the Gaza Strip.”
The White House said that it “unequivocally condemns” the Hamas attacks in Israel, stressing that there is “never any justification for terrorism,” according to National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson.
Smoke rises over Gaza City on October 7, 2023 during Israeli air strikes. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)
Republicans in the House and Senate blasted the Biden administration for unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian assets just weeks before the attack occurred. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei just days before the attack warned Israel that “the usurper regime is coming to an end.”
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Iranian military commander and special advisor Yahya Rahim Safavi applauded the attacks, cheering on the “liberation of Palestine,” according to reports.
Cars are on fire after they were hit by rockets from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, Israel, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip infiltrated Saturday into southern Israel and fired thousands of rockets into the country while Israel began striking targets in Gaza in response. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
“We congratulate the Palestinian fighters,” it quoted Yahya Rahim Safavi as saying. “We will stand by the Palestinian fighters until the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem.”
Lior Haiat, the spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, told Fox News Digital on Saturday, “Those terror organizations [Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad] are working as proxies of the Ayatollah regime” in the Islamic Republic.
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Haiat added: “Iran is trying for years, especially in the last few months, to have a terror organization, both the Islamic Jihad that is fully supported and financed by Iran, and Hamas terror organization that is also financed but not fully by Iran. They are calling them to attack Israel and Israelis.”
He stressed that Iran is “without a doubt … behind the scenes” of this war against Israel.
Fox News Digital’s Yonat Friling, Chris Pandolfo, Benjamin Weinthal, Timothy H.J. Nerozzi and Adam Shaw contributed to this report.
Peter Aitken is a Fox News Digital reporter with a focus on national and global news.