GAZA AND JERUSALEM (CNN) — Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that the country was “at war” on Saturday, after militants from Gaza fired a deadly barrage of rockets and sent gunmen into Israeli territory in a major escalation of the long running conflict between the two sides.
“Citizens of Israel, we are at war – not in an operation, not in rounds – at war,” Netanyahu said in a video message.
The early morning rocket attacks from Gaza, which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) described as “massive,” left at least one person dead and over 100 injured, according to figures from two hospitals.
Hamas, the Palestinian militant movement that runs Gaza, claimed responsibility for the rocket attack and called for a general uprising against Israel.
“If you have a gun, get it out. This is the time to use it – get out with trucks, cars, axes, today the best and most honorable history starts,” Hamas military commander Muhammad Al-Deif said in a recorded message.
Dubbing the operation “Al-Aqsa Storm,” he said that the group had “targeted the enemy positions, airports and military positions with 5,000 rockets” and that the assault on Israel was a response to attacks on women, the desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and the ongoing siege of Gaza.
Israeli forces “are fighting on the ground as we speak,” IDF spokesperson Lt Col Richard Hecht said in a briefing on Saturday, listing at least half a dozen locations where fighting is taking place.
The locations include Erez Crossing, Nahal Oz, Magen, Kibbutz Beeri, Rehim Army Base, Ziikim Army base, Kfar Azza and Kibbutz Beeri.
The IDF said it was responding to the attack by striking “a number of targets belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip.”
Hecht also said that thousands of reservists will be called up from the IDF.
The IDF warned Israelis who live near Gaza to stay in their homes or head to shelters.
“In the last hour, the Hamas terrorist organization had begun a massive shooting of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, and terrorists infiltrated into Israeli territory in a number of different locations,” the IDF said in a statement Saturday morning. Sirens warning of incoming rockets continued for at least three hours after the initial barrage.
“The Hamas terrorist organization is the sovereign in the Gaza Strip and is responsible for this attack. It will face the consequences and responsibility for these events,” it added.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog said Israel was facing “a very difficult moment,” writing in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“I wish to offer strength to the commanders and soldiers of the IDF, and to all the security forces and rescue services. I send my encouragement and strength to all the residents of Israel who are under attack,” he added.
CNN teams in Jerusalem heard rocket warning sirens and booms, likely the interceptions of incoming rockets, as sirens continued to sound around Israel.
The first round of rockets was fired at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning local time (11:30 p.m. ET), when most Israelis are likely to have been asleep.
It is rare for Palestinian militants to be able to make it into Israel from Gaza which is sealed off and heavily watched by Israel’s miltary.
Israel television Channel 12 reported that the infiltrators from Gaza had entered Kibbutz Beeri, saying that residents were urging the IDF to rush to the kibbutz.
Channel 12 also reported that infiltrators had taken hostages in Netiv HaAsara. Israeli authorities did not immediately confirm any details about those reports.
Social media footage obtained by CNN showed multiple masked gunmen in a pickup truck driving down a street in the Israeli city of Sderot. Gunfire could also be heard in the video.
One woman died and at least 15 people were wounded across southern and lowland regions of Israel in the militant attacks, Israel’s Magen David Adom rescue service said a mid-morning update on Saturday.
MDA said the woman who was killed was in her 60s, revising her age down from 70s, which CNN had earlier reported.
Two people are in critical condition, six in moderate condition and seven have minor injuries, MDA said in a statement.
The MDA said teams “respond to areas of reported missile falls and live firing incidents,” and urged people to heed instruction from authorities and to carefully and promptly go to a protected area when an alarm sounds.
MDA spokesperson Zaki Heller also urged people to donate blood and said a special blood donation drive is being organized in Tel Aviv for Saturday morning “due to an urgent need.”
The rockets, which were witnessed by a CNN producer in Gaza, prompted sirens as far north as the Tel Aviv area, east to Beer Sheva, and many other locations in between.
Social media footage obtained by CNN showed the aftermath of a rocket strike in the coastal city of Ashkelon where multiple cars could be seen burning next to an apartment complex, a thick plume of black smoke billowing into the air.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant are conducting security assessments at Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu’s office said.
Gaza is one of the most densely packed places in the world, an isolated coastal enclave of almost 2 million people crammed into 140 square miles.
Governed by Hamas, the territory is largely cut off from the rest of the world by an Israeli blockade of Gaza’s land, air and sea dating back to 2007. Egypt controls Gaza’s southern border crossing, Rafah.
Israel has placed heavy restrictions on the freedom of civilian movement and controls the importation of basic goods into the narrow coastal strip.
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