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Israel warns of 'long and difficult war' as Gaza bombarded

Israel warns of 'long and difficult war' as Gaza bombarded
4 min read
Israeli Prime Minister has warned of a 'long and difficult' war against Hamas as the Israeli military bombards Gaza, hitting numerous civilian targets.
Israel's bombardment of Gaza has involved the bombing of residential buildings and areas [Getty]

Israeli forces battled holdout Hamas fighters and pounded targets in the Gaza Strip Sunday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a "long and difficult" war.

The army said tens of thousands of soldiers were deployed to fight militants in southern desert regions near the coastal enclave, to rescue Israeli hostages and then evacuate the entire region within 24 hours.

"We'll reach each and every community till we kill every terrorist in Israel," said military spokesman Daniel Hagari, a day after hundreds of Hamas fighters crossed into Israel in vehicles, boats and even using paragliders.

"Our mission for the upcoming 24 hours is to evacuate all residents" from communities around the Gaza Strip, he told journalists.

Israel also came under attack from the north when Lebanon's Hezbollah launched missiles and artillery shells "in solidarity" with the unprecedented surprise offensive from Gaza that left hundreds dead.

Israel was shocked when Gaza rulers Hamas launched a multi-pronged assault at dawn Saturday with thousands of rockets and ground, air and sea forces, attacking and infiltrating Israeli settlements and kibbutz communities.

The worst fighting in decades has killed more than 200 Israelis and wounded over 1,000, leaving bodies of civilians strewn on roads, while on the Gaza side at least 313 have died and over 1,700 were reported wounded.

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'Lots of people have been killed'

An unknown number of Israeli soldiers and civilians were abducted into Gaza as hostages, sparking dismay in Israel and massively complicating its military campaign.

Gun battles still raged Sunday between Israeli forces and hundreds of Hamas fighters in multiple locations, including at a police station in Sderot where police and special forces killed ten Palestinian fighters, police said.

"A lot of people have been killed," said another army spokesman, Richard Hecht, after the military released the names of 26 dead soldiers. "We lost soldiers, lost commanders and lost a lot of civilians.

"We are completing efforts to retake full control of Israeli territory from Hamas," he added, reporting that the army had struck 426 Hamas targets including Gaza tunnels, buildings and other infrastructure.

Global concern has mounted, with Western capitals condemning the attack by Hamas, which Washington and Brussels consider a terrorist group, while Israel's foes, including Iran and Hezbollah, praised the assault. Other international bodies have condemned all violence against civilians but have recognised that the Israeli occupation and denial of sovereignty and basic rights to Palestinians is the main contributory factor to the violence. 

Netanyahu -- who leads a far-right government but has received support from political opponents during Israel's national emergency -- has vowed to turn Hamas hideouts "to rubble" and urged Palestinians there to flee as devastating air strikes continued.

"We are embarking on a long and difficult war that was forced on us by a murderous Hamas attack," Netanyahu wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

"The first stage is ending at this time with the destruction of the vast majority of the enemy forces that infiltrated our territory," he added, pledging no "respite" until victory.

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Palestinian civilians attacked

Israel's response so far has been to rush forces to the embattled south, calling up reservists, while bombarding Gaza in what has been named operation "Swords of Iron", with some observers predicting a possible ground invasion of Gaza.

Israeli attacks have seemingly targeted civilians in the besieged Gaza strip, reducing several residential towers to rubble.

Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, leading to Israel's crippling blockade of the impoverished enclave of 2.3 million people on the Mediterranean coast.

Israel has bombarded the densely populated Gaza several times since, with the latest large-scale military exchange in May killing 34 Palestinians.

The Hamas offensive follows months of rising violence, mostly in the occupied West Bank, and tensions around Gaza's border and holy sites in Jerusalem, where Israel's far-right government is increasingly undermining the sovereignty of the Al-Aqsa mosque by allowing settlers to pray at the Islamic holy site and symbol of Palestinian national identity.

Before Saturday, the violence this yea, Israel had killed at least 247 Palestinians.

Violence has flared again in the West Bank since Saturday, leaving at least seven Palestinians dead in clashes with Israeli forces and armed settlers, according to the health ministry in Ramallah.