On early Saturday morning, Palestinian terrorists with Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched a large-scale attack on Israel. Gunmen stormed into Israeli cities and towns while rockets launched from the Gaza Strip.
In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country is at war and pledged retaliation. Israel has launched several air strikes into the occupied territory of the Gaza Strip in response to what is the biggest attack inside Israeli territory in decades. The total death toll on both sides is now in the hundreds. As of Saturday night, fighting continues, with several Israeli nationals — service members and civilians — held hostage by Hamas and Israel ramping up attacks into the occupied territory.
Here’s what you need to know about the conflict, including the death toll, the groups involved, and why people are spreading a lie that American money is funding the Hamas attack.
How it began
The fighting started early Saturday morning, with a large wave of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. The rockets hit multiple sites including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Terrorists then entered southern Israel via land and sea, despite heavy Israeli security, surveillance, and a blockade of the Gaza Strip. Videos from today show Palestinian terrorists entering Israel from at least five points, with little initial resistance.
Terrorists attacked military sites and civilian areas in cities and towns. The attack on Israel is the bloodiest inside the nation’s territory in decades and comes almost 50 years to the day of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The scale and multi-pronged nature of the attack, along with its success, points to major intelligence and defense failures in the Israeli security forces.
How many have been killed in the fighting?
Ongoing violence continues so the exact figure is unclear. As of Saturday, at least 480 people in total are confirmed dead. That includes 250 Israeli deaths, as well as many more wounded. Figures from Gaza are harder to confirm in part due to limited Internet and power in the Gaza Strip since the fighting began. At least 230 are reported dead.
Doctors Without Borders said that Israeli airstrikes hit a hospital and an ambulance outside of another medical center, killing two medical workers. As with the killing of civilians, indiscriminate or direct targeting of medical centers is generally prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and can be considered war crimes.
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What is the United States doing in response?
President Joe Biden explicitly condemned Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s actions on Saturday, reiterating American support for Israel.
Meanwhile, the United States military is not directly doing anything in response — yet. U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, said it is “closely tracking the situation surrounding the appalling terrorist attack by Hamas against the people of Israel. We stand with Israel and extend our condolences for the lives lost in these attacks.”
Top-level American officials, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, are in contact with their Israeli counterparts. In a call with reporters on Saturday, a senior administration official said the U.S. is communicating with Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority which controls the occupied West Bank about the violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip, and working to prevent the fighting from spreading.
Are any other groups involved?
Right now the fighting is limited to parties in Israel and Gaza, specifically Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has previously fought a war with Israel in 2006, has praised Hamas for the operation but has not taken action itself. As of press time, early Sunday morning Israeli local time, there are reports of rockets being fired into the Golan Heights from southern Lebanon; Hezbollah has claimed responsibility. Agence France-Press reports that Israel fired artillery at the launch site in Lebanon.
There is also no evidence pointing to Iranian involvement in this weekend’s violence, the Biden official said, although they noted Iran’s history of support for Hamas.
Is Iran using recently freed money to aid this operation?
A common claim and conspiracy theory that has popped up on social media since the fighting started is that the Hamas operation was financed in part with $6 billion in Iranian money the United States unfroze last month. It’s a claim that even some members of the U.S. Congress., Senators Rick Scott and J.D. Vance, voiced on Twitter.
It’s not true.
In September the United States agreed to release $6 billion as part of a deal to free five American citizens held in Iranian jails. The money was Iranian oil sale profits, not American taxpayer money. According to the Department of the Treasury, the money is currently in a Qatari bank. Under the agreement with Iran, Iran cannot directly utilize the money; instead, it can be used to pay a third party for humanitarian, agricultural, and medical services.
There is no proof that money from that prisoner release deal has gone toward Hamas.
As of Sunday morning, there is no sign of de-escalation, or any attempts to negotiate an end to hostilities. The United Nations Security Council is set to meet to discuss the deadly crisis.
In light of the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu — under intense pressure within Israel for his efforts to overhaul the country’s judicial system, widely regarded as an anti-democratic step — is in talks with opposition figures. Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz to form an emergency unity government. Netanyahu promised retaliation against Hamas; so far that has been in the form of air strikes, not a ground operation. That has not been ruled out, although there have not been any signs as of press time of a ground operation.
Netanyahu told civilians in the Gaza Strip to “leave now” ahead of Israeli attacks. The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places on Earth, with approximately 2 million people living in just over 360 square kilometers, putting civilians at risk. It is under blockade from Israel and the only other nation it shares a border with, Egypt, has not signaled that it would open its borders for a humanitarian corridor. The Biden official told reporters on Saturday that they had not heard reports of Netanyahu’s warning — Israeli media confirmed it — and had no comment regarding it.
Past wars between Israel and Gaza have been bloody for civilian populations on both sides. During the 2021 war in Gaza, 128 Palestinian civilians were killed. 14 civilians died in Israel. During Operation Cast Lead, the three-week-long war in 2008-2009, the violence killed more than 1,100 people in total, the majority of which were civilians.
This is a developing story.
Update: 10/8/2023: This story has been updated to reflect Hezbollah taking credit for the rocket attack in the Golan Heights.
Update: This story was edited after publishing to change ‘militants’ to ‘terrorists’ as the description of who attacked Israel, and adjust the language regarding war crimes.
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