Israeli forces clashed with gunmen from the Palestinian group Hamas on Sunday, 24 hours after the militants launched a surprise attack on Israel in which nearly 500 people were killed in the deadliest day of violence in Israel for 50 years.
The biggest incursion into Israel in decades could undermine US-backed efforts to forge regional security alignments that could threaten Palestinian aspirations for statehood and the ambitions of the group’s main backer, Iran.
Hamas fighters began their attack at dawn on Saturday with a huge barrage of rockets into southern Israel, giving cover to an unprecedented, multi-pronged infiltration of fighters into Israel from Gaza, a narrow strip that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians.
Hamas fighters killed at least 250 Israelis in clashes through the day and escaped back into Gaza with dozens of hostages. More than 230 Gazans were killed when Israel responded with one of its most devastating days of retaliatory strikes.
“We will take mighty vengeance for this wicked day,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.
Israeli troops battled Hamas gunmen through the night in parts of southern Israel. An Israeli army spokesperson said on social media the situation was not fully under control.
The escalation comes against a backdrop of surging violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where a Palestinian authority exercises limited self-rule, opposed by Hamas that wants Israel destroyed.
The West Bank has seen stepped-up Israeli raids, Palestinian street attacks and assaults by Jewish settlers on Palestinian villages.Conditions for Palestinians have worsened under Netanyahu’s hard-right government. Peacemaking has been stalled for years.