Updated Oct 7, 2023 - World

Netanyahu says "we are at war" after Hamas launches surprise invasion

Smoke rises after Israeli air forces target a shopping center in Gaza. Photo: Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

To get the latest, follow Axios' coverage of the fighting in Israel and Gaza here.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Saturday that his country is "at war" after Hamas launched a surprise morning invasion from Gaza in the most serious incursion against Israel in decades.

The big picture: Israel is retaliating with airstrikes against Gaza. Hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians have been killed since the attack began.

  • Thousands have been wounded.
  • The attack comes after weeks of escalating violence and amid a deep political crisis in Israel over the Netanyahu government's judicial overhaul, which has weakened the country's military, economy and society.
  • The last serious invasion against Israel took place in 1973 and it caught the country and its leadership by complete surprise.

What's happening: Hamas on Saturday also launched missiles at Israeli cities across the country including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another militant group in Gaza, said its members were taking part in the attack.

  • Israel declared an emergency across the country as it launched a heavy bombardment against Gaza. The Israeli Cabinet approved the mobilization of tens of thousands of reservists.
  • An IDF spokesperson confirmed in a briefing with reporters that Hamas has taken Israeli civilians and soldiers hostage and brought them back to Gaza. He said there are two ongoing hostage situations in two Israeli villages near the border with multiple hostages.
  • The spokesperson added the Israeli army is on high alert in the Northern Command but stressed there were no incidents on the border with Lebanon. "Whoever is going to attack us on the northern front will pay a heavy price," he said.
  • The Israeli minister of energy signed a decree to halt all supply of electricity from Israel to Gaza. Gaza will now only get electricity from its power plant and from Egypt.

What they're saying: "We are at war," Netanyahu said in a televised address. "Not an 'operation,' not a 'round,' but at war."

  • "The enemy will pay an unprecedented price," he said, adding that Israel would "return fire of a magnitude that the enemy has not known."
  • Later, he urged Palestinian residents to leave areas where militants are located, saying Israel will "turn all Hamas hiding places into rubble."
  • "The government agreed unanimously that the IDF will use all its power to destroy Hamas military capabilities," he added.
  • "We will take strong revenge for the black day they gave the people of Israel. We will operate everywhere and with all of our force. This war will take time and it will be difficult but we will win," Netanyahu said.

Hamas spokesperson Khaled Qadomi told Al Jazeera that the militant group wants "the international community to stop atrocities in Gaza, against Palestinian people, our holy sites like Al-Aqsa."

  • "All these things are the reason behind starting this battle," he said.
Smoke plumes rise over Gaza City on October 7, 2023 during Israeli air strikes.
Smoke plumes rise over Gaza City during Israeli airstrikes on Saturday. Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

How it happened: The invasion started around 7:30am local time when Hamas used bulldozers to take down parts of the border barrier between Gaza and Israel.

  • The Israeli military was caught by surprise. It took several hours to respond. With parts of the barrier down, Hamas militants invaded Israel with dozens of pickup trucks and occupied Israeli villages and towns close to the border. Unverified videos on social media showed Hamas operatives driving undisturbed in the middle of Israeli towns close to the border.
  • Israeli citizens in villages close to the border that were invaded locked themselves in safe rooms and called Israeli television channels asking for help.
  • Hamas militants also invaded the IDF headquarters in charge of military operations in Gaza and took it over. The IDF restored control after 13 hours of fighting.

Zoom out: Netanyahu told President Biden in a phone call later Saturday that Israel "will win" a war against Hamas, the Israeli Prime Minister's Office said.

  • Biden stressed the U.S. stands by Israel and fully supports its right to defend itself, according to the Israeli PM Office.
  • Earlier Saturday, the White House condemned the "unprovoked attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians."
  • National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to his Israeli counterpart, Tzachi Hanegbi, and was briefed about the situation.
  • "We stand firmly with the government and people of Israel and extend our condolences for the Israeli lives lost in these attacks," White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Pentagon will work to ensure Israel "has what it needs to defend itself."

Go deeper: Protests over Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan rock Israeli military

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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