Israel vowed to lay total siege to the Gaza Strip on Monday, as its military scoured the country’s south for militants, guarded breaches in its border fence and pounded the impoverished, Hamas-ruled territory in the wake of an unprecedented weekend incursion.
More than two days after Hamas launched its surprise attack, the military said the fighting had largely died down for now. Israel’s vaunted military and intelligence apparatus was caught completely off guard, bringing heavy battles to its streets for the first time in decades.
Israel formally declared war on Sunday and the army called up around 300,000 reservists, portending greater fighting ahead and a possible ground assault into Gaza — a move that in the past has brought intensified casualties. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to destroy “the military and governing capabilities” of the militant group, which is deeply rooted in Gaza and has ruled unchallenged since 2007.
As Israel hit more than 1,000 targets in Gaza and its tanks and drones guarded openings in the border fence to prevent more infiltrations, Palestinian militants continued firing barrages of rockets, setting off air raid sirens in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Video posted online appeared to show a plume of smoke near a terminal at Ben Gurion International Airport. There was no immediate word on casualties or damage.
But civilians have already paid a high price. Around 700 people have been killed in Israel — a staggering toll by the scale of its recent conflicts. Nearly 500 have been killed in Gaza, an enclave of 2.3 million Palestinians bordering Israel and Egypt.
Palestinian militant groups claimed to be holding over 130 people captured in Israel and dragged to Gaza. The armed wing of Hamas said on its Telegram channel that four of them were killed in Israeli airstrikes.
That claim could not be independently confirmed — but underscored the dilemma facing Israel’s government as it bombards a territory where its own citizens are held captive.
In an effort to further ratchet up the pressure on Hamas, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, saying authorities would cut electricity and prevent food and fuel from entering the territory. He said Israel was at war with “human animals,” using the kind of dehumanizing language often heard on both sides at times of soaring tensions.
Israel and Egypt have imposed various levels of blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized power, but in recent years Israel had provided limited electricity and allowed the import of food, fuel and consumer goods, while heavily restricting travel in and out.