Southern Israel is a war zone, with clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants continuing a day and a half after Hamas launched a surprise offensive. Local reports indicate that Israeli forces are still working to regain full control of Israeli territory and communities from Hamas.
The surprise offensive, which has resulted in significant casualties on both sides, was launched by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas at dawn on Saturday. In response, Israeli forces launched airstrikes against the Gaza Strip and pursued hundreds of Palestinian fighters who had infiltrated their territory.
To date, more than 400 Palestinian militants have been killed both in southern Israel and in Gaza, with dozens more captured, according to the Times of Israel. Meanwhile, the health ministry in Gaza has confirmed 313 deaths there as a result of Israeli air strikes.
Israel has also suffered significant casualties, with over 600 Israelis reported killed. Palestinian fighters have kidnapped both civilians and soldiers, although no figures have been released by the Israeli authorities. However, the online news site Ynet estimated that around 100 people had been taken captive.
Rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel before dawn on Sunday, hitting a hospital in Ashkelon. The hospital was damaged, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.
The Israeli air strikes in Gaza escalated after nightfall, causing massive explosions and levelling residential buildings, including a 14-storey tower in Gaza City that housed apartments and Hamas offices. Israel says it is targeting the residences of Hamas commanders, but there have also been civilian casualties. Gaza’s already strained health system is struggling to cope with the influx of casualties.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the first phase of the operation was nearing completion, with most of the enemy forces that had infiltrated Israeli territory eliminated. He warned the Israeli people that it would be “a long and difficult war”.
Meanwhile, Israel is evacuating residents living near Palestinian territory due to continued threats from Hamas, which has vowed to continue taking revenge for what it sees as Israeli aggression.
In support of Hamas, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah on Sunday fired scores of rockets and shells at three Israeli positions in a disputed area along the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Syria. The Israeli military responded, but no casualties were immediately reported.