The Israel Defense Forces military was engaged in a massive build-up of forces, calling up large numbers of reservists and preparing for war as it continued to reel from one of the darkest days in Israel’s history, which saw an unprecedented terrorist assault on the country’s southern communities, with hundreds killed, over 1,500 wounded and apparently dozens abducted by the Hamas terror group.
In an assault of startling breadth, Hamas gunmen rolled into as many as 22 locations outside Gaza, including towns and other communities as far as 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the Gaza border. In some places, they roamed for hours, gunning down civilians and soldiers as Israel’s military scrambled to muster a response. Gun battles continued well after nightfall, and terrorists held hostages in standoffs in at least two towns.
The death toll from the day’s events continued to rise by the hour and stood at 250 people slain, many of them civilians murdered in their homes, in the streets as well as at a large outdoor party targeted by the terrorists.
Hospitals were flooded with wounded, with the latest tally at 1,500, some 200 of those seriously injured and 17 in critical condition.
As midnight neared, nearly 18 hours after the coordinated assault began, Israeli security forces were still struggling to clear terrorist cells entrenched within devastated communities. Many civilians were still holed up in their homes, hiding in fear of roving terrorists searching for victims, as troops faced off with hostage-takers in some cases and stormed homes in others, shooting dead the gunmen within.
Meanwhile, a continuous stream of Palestinian photos and videos flooded social media depicting scenes of carnage from within the towns as well as harrowing footage of frightened men, women and children dragged from their homes to an uncertain fate in Gaza. The IDF confirmed that soldiers and civilians had been taken hostage but did not specify a number.
Concurrently, barrages of rockets continued to rain down on southern and central Israel, regularly sending hundreds of thousands of people running to shelters. Several people were wounded by rockets that evaded the Iron Dome defense system and smashed into towns. Some were seriously hurt.
The scenes of chaos and suffering and the prolonged failure to gain control of the situation shocked and outraged the nation, and sparked pointed questions and demands for answers on the many failures of intelligence, deployment and policy that had enabled such a national catastrophe, with hundreds of terrorists flooding civilian communities in armed convoys.
At the same time, Israel was in the preliminary stages of a military response its leaders vowed would be unprecedented, with the army carrying out strikes on terror targets across the Strip throughout the day. Gaza health officials said at least 230 were killed there, with hundreds wounded.
The army said four divisions of reservists were being deployed to the Gaza border, joining 35 battalions that were already there.
Events ‘never before seen in Israel’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was at war, as he discussed the potential formation of an emergency government with leaders of the opposition.
In an address to the nation at night, the premier vow to use “all the power” of the IDF to destroy Hamas’s capabilities, and told Gaza’s residents to “get out now.”
Calling the day’s events something “never before seen in Israel,” he promised to ensure “it will never happen again.”
“Hamas wants to murder us all,” Netanyahu said, “murdering children and mothers in their homes, in their beds. It is an enemy that kidnaps elderly people, children, young girls,” an enemy “that massacres and slaughters our civilians, our children, who simply wanted to enjoy the festival.”
Media outlets reported that as night fell, several communities were brought back under control, while there were several ongoing battles in others. A broad assessment of the situation had yet to be published by the military, and it was unclear which communities were still under siege.
???????? MASSIVE rocket barrage reportedly headed toward Tel Aviv.
Huge explosions reported in the north of Jerusalem. pic.twitter.com/XM8xwkrqLx
— Jackson Hinkle ???????? (@jacksonhinklle) October 7, 2023
Among the flashpoints: a police station in Sderot controlled by an unknown number of terrorists that saw scenes of intense gunfire; an ongoing hostage situation in Ofakim; gun battles in Netivot, and efforts by security forces to extricate an undisclosed number of Israelis held hostage for hours by Hamas gunmen inside the dining hall at Kibbutz Be’eri.
Widely distributed images throughout the day showed the bodies of dead civilians lying on the streets in southern communities and roads.
The military continued to sweep the towns where the terrorists infiltrated, reaching civilians who were holed up for long hours. The IDF claimed to have killed hundreds of Palestinian terrorists in southern Israel and the Gaza Strip in recent hours.
תחנת שדרות, הרגע.
מפילים את המבנה על המחבלים pic.twitter.com/hwi6cXaum1
— דבורה ???????????? (@devorah555) October 7, 2023
Among the Israeli counter-attacks were a drone strike against two terrorists attempting to breach the security barrier near the disused Karni Crossing; nine terrorists killed during clashes with troops in the town of Nirim; and four terrorists targeted by a fighter jet at the Erez Crossing.
Other terror squads were killed by troops in the southern towns of Sufa, Kfar Aza, and Kerem Shalom, the IDF said. The IDF also carried out several drone strikes against terrorists in the area. The military published footage showing one of the strikes near Be’eri.
The IDF also regained control of the Re’im military base in southern Israel, which houses the Gaza Division, from Hamas terrorists, close to where Israelis were massacred at a nature party at a kibbutz of the same name.
Toward midnight, the IDF said the commanding officer of the Nahal Infantry Brigade, Col. Yonatan Steinberg, was killed in the morning during clashes with terrorists in the Kerem Shalom area. He was the highest-ranking confirmed victim so far.
Scenes of carnage
Channel 12 news reported that dozens of bodies were removed from the scene of the party near Kibbutz Re’im. The scenes of chaos that erupted there were some of the first and most disturbing images to be published amid the assault. Eyewitnesses said gunfire tore into the crowd even as hundreds of partygoers attempted to flee the site. Some hid for hours in woodland and orchards before being extracted by security forces.
The bodies were being taken for the beginning of the process of identifying the victims.
תיעוד מאיזור הנפילה בתל אביב pic.twitter.com/sl5fARMoBX
— החדשות – N12 (@N12News) October 7, 2023
Also among those killed was senior paramedic and ambulance driver, Aharon Haimov, who was shot in an MDA ambulance as he was on his way to treat victims in his hometown of Ofakim.
Gaza strikes and a state of emergency
Throughout Saturday, the IDF said it struck multiple terrorist squads in southern Israel, as well as several sites belonging to the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing Operation Iron Sword. Israel has also cut electricity to the coastal enclave.
The sites targeted by Israeli Air Force fighter jets and drones included 17 military compounds, four headquarters, and four high-rise towers the IDF said were used by Hamas.
One of the buildings — the “Palestine” building — was used by a number of Hamas units, including intelligence, weapon production, and offices of senior members, the IDF said.
Another office building served as the headquarters of Hamas’s general security, the IDF added.
Another two multi-story buildings in the Gaza Strip housed Hamas assets, the military said. The military said it notified residents of the two buildings before they were hit.
IAF fighter jets dropped more than 16 tons of munitions on Hamas assets in the Strip, according to a military source.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant decided to extend an emergency situation to the entire State of Israel, his office said.
Earlier, Gallant declared the “special situation” within a range of 80 kilometers from the Gaza Strip.
The “special situation” allows the military’s Home Front Command to restrict gatherings and close off areas.
Potential emergency government
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed with opposition parties Yesh Atid and National Unity the potential for forming an emergency government following Hamas’s devastating surprise attack.
Netanyahu discussed the matter during meetings with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and National Unity party leader Benny Gantz, saying such a government would be the same in format as the Levi Eshkol government then-opposition leader Menachem Begin joined before the Six Day War in 1967.
Gantz said he is considering entering such a government for the duration of the war but insisted that the government would “deal with security challenges alone” and in a manner that would allow “substantive partnership and influence over decision-making in relevant forums” for his party.
The National Unity party leader told Netanyahu that regardless, the current government will receive full backing “for any responsible and determined security action.”
Lapid said he would join “a reduced, professional, emergency government” and said it would be impossible to manage a war with “the extreme and dysfunctional composition of the current cabinet,” essentially calling on the prime minister to remove the far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties from the government in order for him to bring his Yesh Atid party into the coalition.
President Isaac Herzog spoke with a range of world leaders who expressed support for Israel, his office said.
Throughout the day, the international community expressed shock and horror over the attacks, while Israel’s archnemesis Iran, which backs the terror groups, praised the assault.
US President Joe Biden on Saturday called Netanyahu and stressed that the US stands by Israel and fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself. He made similar comments in a statement to cameras, offering “rock solid” support.
“We will not ever fail to have their back, we’ll make sure that they’ll have the help their citizens need and they can continue to defend themselves,” Biden said while flanked by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Netanyahu thanked Biden for his support and told him that a “prolonged and powerful campaign will be required in which Israel will win,” a readout from the Prime Minister’s Office said.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Pentagon will work in the coming days to make sure Israel has the means to protect itself from the attack.