An Israeli military spokesperson has confirmed that Hamas militants are holding Israeli civilians and soldiers hostage in Gaza. The military did not say how many hostages were seized, but their capture marks a major escalation in the fighting.
The military confirmed Hamas claims that its fighters had kidnapped a number of Israelis after infiltrating Israel’s highly fortified separation fence and storming into Israeli communities in the country’s south.
The army did not offer further details. Social media has been filled with videos showing Hamas fighters dragging lifeless Israeli soldiers on the ground and parading captured civilians through the streets of Gaza.
The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza says at least 198 people have been killed and at least 1,610 wounded in the territory in Israel’s retaliation after a wide-ranging Hamas assault into Israel.
Israel has carried out a number of airstrikes in Gaza and has clashed with gunmen at the border fence around the coastal territory. Its national rescue service says at least 40 people have been killed in a wide-ranging Hamas assault into Israel.
The latest toll came from the Magen David Adom rescue service as fighting was still underway on Saturday.
Hospitals in Israel are treating hundreds of wounded people, including dozens in critical condition.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Israel was “at war” and called for a mass mobilisation of army reserves. The invasion revived memories of the 1973 war practically 50 years to the day.
The escalation broke out when the militant Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip carried out an unprecedented, multifront attack on Israel on Saturday, firing thousands of rockets as dozens of Hamas fighters infiltrated the heavily fortified border in several locations and catching the country off-guard on a major holiday.
The UN peacekeeping force deployed along the Lebanon-Israel border says it is closely monitoring the situation in Israel.
In a statement, the force said that peacekeepers are present along the border line to maintain stability and help avoid escalation.
“We have also adapted and enhanced our presence throughout our area of operations, including counter rocket-launching operations,” said the force known as UNIFIL.
It has been months since rockets were fired from Lebanon into northern Israel. The border area has been relatively calm since a monthlong war between Israel and Hezbollah ended in August 2006.
UNIFIL said its leader is in contact with all sides since the violence began in southern Israel “to ensure effective coordination and avoid misunderstandings.”
The force said its primary goal is to preserve stability along the Blue Line and avoid any escalation “that could have disastrous consequences for people living in the area.”
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