Israel suffers bloodiest day in decades as fierce gunfights rage in streets against Hamas militants

Gunfights are raging in the streets of Israel after Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to root out every Hamas militant who broke through the Gaza border and rampaged through nearby settlements, as harrowing accounts emerge of the toll on civilians in their path.

In the wake of Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Saturday morning – which has led to the worst loss of Israeli lives in decades – Israel’s security cabinet formally declared war on Sunday, authorising it to take “significant military steps” in retaliation.

Already hammering the trapped residents of Gaza with relentless airstrikes, and cutting off power and other supplies to the besieged enclave the prospect of a large-scale humanitarian crisis grew starker on Sunday – with Israel doing little to disperse fears of a looming ground offensive.

Mr Netanyahu had first vowed to “go through every community until we kill every terrorist that is in Israeli territory” as he ordered the evacuation of regions near the border – where Israeli troops were seeking to dislodge Hamas fighters from eight separate locations. It came as:

  • Fatalities in Israel hit 600 and in Palestine surpassed 370, with thousands more injured.
  • Hezbollah and Israel traded rocket and artillery fire on Lebanon border.
  • Witnesses told The Independent of fatalities at a music festival raided by Hamas.
  • Israel confirmed that Hamas had taken 100 hostages.
  • Poland announced it was evacuating its citizens from Israel

In extraordinary scenes, gunfire was exchanged on streets in southern Israel on Sunday, with Hamas claiming its fighters had continued to cross the border overnight in the wake of their initial incursion involving paragliders, speedboats and motorbikes, after blowing up Israeli observation towers and other fortifications.

Among those in the immediate path of the militants were thousands of revellers at a trance music festival, which was interrupted on Saturday morning by rockets flying overhead, before militants stormed the event and opened fire with assault rifles and grenades.

Hunting down partygoers as they tried to hide in a wooded area nearby, the militants killed and kidnapped dozens of people, eyewitnesses and friends told The Independent.

Hundreds of revellers fled the rave as Hamas attacked


One woman said she had survived only by playing dead in a car after the driver who tried to help her escape was shot at point-blank range, while another told the BBC of hiding under a tree for three hours while gunmen with automatic weapons roamed the area shooting all in their sight.

Harrowing footage showed a 25-year-old woman being driven away on a Palestinian gunman’s motorcycle as she pleaded “don’t kill me”. Her boyfriend, who was also in the footage being dragged away, is also believed to have been taken hostage, his brother told Israeli broadcaster Channel 12 News.

British citizen Jake Marlowe was working as a security guard at the festival, and has been missing since sending his mother a message telling her he loved her at 5.30am on Saturday, she told Jewish News.

In a voice note – a transcript of which has been seen by The Independent – sent by Mr Marlowe to a friend, the 26-year-old said: “We are seeing it in front of our eyes, we are rounding up the people from the party now, we are on an ATV [quad bike] and we are telling everyone to get the f*** outta there.”

Jake Marlowe has been missing since Saturday morning

(Jake Marlowe/Facebook)

Another British citizen, photographer Dan Darlington, was reported missing by his family, while relatives of 20-year-old Nathanel Young – a Briton serving with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) – said he had been killed near the Gaza border.

In a sign the conflict could spread, Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia exchanged artillery and rocket fire along the Lebanese border, while in Egypt, two Israeli tourists were shot dead by a police officer along with their Egyptian guide.

United States secretary of state Antony Blinken said Washington would announce new aid and assistance for Israel, and suggested that part of the motivation for Hamas’s attack could have been disrupting a potential normalising of Israel-Saudi Arabia ties.

With Iran and Iraq among nations to praise Hamas, US president Joe Biden warned: “This is not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks.”

Palestinians gather around the rubble of buildings hit during Israeli airstrikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip

(AFP via Getty Images)

Indicating heightened concerns, announced it was sending military planes to evacuate some 200 of its citizens from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, with Romania having repatriated nearly 350 people overnight on Saturday on two flights.

Polish defence minister defence minister Mariusz Blaszczak said his country was “in talks on establishing an evacuation bridge” with Greece.

Meanwhile, Israel claimed Hamas militants were hiding in civilian houses, hospitals and schools in Gaza, as Israeli air strikes hit housing blocks, tunnels, a hospital and a mosque. The IDF said it had hit 800 Hamas targets in Gaza, and claimed to have killed hundreds of Hamas miliants inside Israel.

Israeli soldiers look at the remains of a police station in Sderot

(REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Cutting off electricity and the supply of other goods, Mr Netanuhyu had warned on Saturday that Palestinians had 24 hours to evacuate Gaza – despite the enclave’s 2.3 million inhabitants living there under Israeli blockade.

Issuing a fresh warning on Sunday morning, the prime minister vowed that, in Gaza, “every terrorist located in a house, all the commanders in houses, will be hit by Israeli fire”, adding: “That will continue escalating in the coming hours.”

Vowing to destroy the “military and governing capabilities” of Hamas, he braced Israel’s residents for a drawn-out conflict, saying: “This war will take time. It will be difficult.”

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