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What you should know about Hamas' unprecedented attack on Israel

A car destroyed in an attack by Palestinian militants is seen in Sderot, Israel.
A car destroyed in an attack by Palestinian militants is seen in Sderot, Israel. Copyright AP
Copyright AP
By Euronews with AP
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At least 500 people have been killed in Israel and Gaza since Hamas launched its surprise assault on Saturday. This is what you need to know about the multi-pronged attack.

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Early Saturday morning, Hamas attacked Israel by air, land and sea. Millions of Israelis in the country's south awoke to the searing sound of incoming rockets and the inevitable thud of impact. Air raid sirens wailed as far north as Tel Aviv. Israel's anti-rocket interceptors thundered in Jerusalem.

In an unprecedented escalation, armed fighters blew up parts of Israel's highly fortified separation fence and strode into Israeli communities along the Gaza frontier, terrorizing residents and trading fire with Israeli soldiers.

Israeli media, citing rescue service officials, said at least 250 people were killed and 1,500 wounded. At least 232 people in the Gaza Strip have been killed and at least 1,700 wounded in Israeli strikes, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

1. Why did Israel not detect the attack?

The question of how the militants were able to stage such a huge and coordinated attack without triggering Israeli intelligence concerns has already presented a major challenge to Netanyahu's ultranationalist government.

The government's supporters had expected Netanyahu and hard-line ministers with a history of anti-Arab rhetoric like National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to take a particularly belligerent stance against the Palestinians and respond more forcefully to threats from militants in Gaza.

As political analysts lambast Netanyahu over the failure, and the casualty count climbs, Netanyahu risks losing control of both his government and the country.

2. How was Hamas able to carry out the assault?

Hamas claimed its fighters took several Israelis captive in the enclave, releasing gruesome videos of militants dragging bloodied soldiers across the ground and standing over dead bodies, some of them stripped to their underwear. It said senior Israeli military officers were among the captives.

The videos could not immediately be verified but matched the geographic features of the area. Fears that Israelis had been kidnapped evoked the 2006 capture of soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas-linked militants seized in a cross-border raid. Hamas held Shalit for five years until he was exchanged for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

In a dramatic escalation unseen in decades, Hamas also sent paragliders flying into Israel, the Israeli military said. 

The Israeli army belatedly confirmed that soldiers and civilians were taken hostage in Gaza, but refused to provide further details.

3. What prompted the attack?

Hamas officials cited long-simmering sources of tension between Israel and the Palestinians, including the dispute around the sensitive Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

In recent years, Israeli religious nationalists — such as Ben-Gvir, the national security minister — have increased their visits to the compound. Last week, during the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli activists visited the site, prompting condemnation from Hamas. 

Hamas statements have also cited the expansion of Jewish settlements on lands that the Palestinians claim for a future state and Ben-Gvir's efforts to toughen restrictions on Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

More recently, tensions have escalated with violent Palestinian protests along the Gaza frontier. In negotiations with Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations, Hamas has pushed for Israeli concessions that could loosen the 17-year blockade on the enclave and help halt a worsening financial crisis that has sharpened public criticism of its rule.

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