GAZA - Israel declared a state of alert for war Saturday as dozens of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip struck the country and militants infiltrated southern towns in an unprecedented move. Israel sent warplanes to strike back. Hamas said it had launched a major operation against Israel.
Sirens and booms were heard across the region on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah and the military told southern residents to stay near bomb shelters. Gunfights broke out between Israeli troops and Gaza infiltrators who went in on motorcycles and para-gliders. An Israeli woman in her sixties was killed.
Videos were circulating on social media from Gaza of militants dragging the bodies of several Israeli soldiers into the streets in celebration.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an urgent meeting of security officials and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant approved a wide call-up of reserves.
Smoke is seen following as rocket barrages are launched from the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, Israel. (Photo: Reuters)
The violence erupted a day after Hamas, which rules Gaza, said that the "people had to draw a line to end the occupation" and added that Israel continued to commit crimes across Palestinian land, and especially on the holy site of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.
Similar tension around the Al-Aqsa mosque started a round of confrontations earlier this year.
In a pre-recorded speech, Hamas militant leader Mohamed Deif, said, "We have decided to put an end to all of this, with the help of God, so that the enemy understands that the time of recklessness without accountability is over. We declare Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, and the first strike has surpassed 5,000 missiles and shells in the first 20 minutes."