Israel declares war on Hamas and launches revenge strikes as more than 250 bodies recovered from festival

Israeli soldiers continue to battle Hamas fighters in the streets of south Israel and have launched retaliation strikes across Gaza, after Saturday’s attack by the Palestinian militant group left hundreds dead – the deadliest attack in Israel in fifty years.

Overnight, Israel battered the Gaza Strip with air strikes as rockets from the blockaded Palestinian territory rained on Israel.

According to Israeli media more than 700 people have so far been killed in the conflict and more than 2,000 have been wounded.

The health ministry in Gaza said retaliatory Israeli airstrikes have killed 413 Palestinians and 2,300 have been injured.

An Israeli military official said hundreds of militants had been killed and dozens captured.

Among the locations targeted by the gunmen was a music festival being held in the desert near Kibbutz Re’im, close to the Gaza border.

The rescue service Zaka said it removed about 260 bodies from the festival, and the toll was expected to rise as other paramedic teams were working in the area.

In a televised address on Saturday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military will use all of its strength to destroy Hamas’ capabilities.

“All the places that Hamas hides in, operates from, we will turn them into ruins,” he said. Mr Netanyahu vowed to turn Hamas strongholds in Gaza “to rubble” and warned of a “long and difficult” war.

His Security Cabinet officially declared the country at war in an announcement on Sunday and said the decision formally authorises “the taking of significant military steps.”

After the declaration, Mr Netanyahu said Israel would exact a heavy price from its enemies, adding “This war will take time. It will be difficult”.

Tens of thousands of reservists have been mobilised and are expected to launch a ground operation in Gaza, the BBC reported.

Meanwhile, Hamas leaders said they were prepared for further escalation.

Israeli soldiers in an armoured vehicle ride along a street in the northern Israel near the border with Lebanon on October 8, 2023. Fighting between Israeli forces and the Palestinian militant group Hamas raged on October 8, with hundreds killed on both sides after a surprise attack on Israel prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to warn they were
Israeli soldiers in an armoured vehicle near the border with Lebanon (Photo: JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty)

The US is deploying naval vessels and combat aircraft to Israel “to bolster regional deterrence efforts” amid the ongoing fighting, the Pentagon announced in a statement.

US President Joe Biden has said Israel has its “rock solid and unwavering” support.

After Mr Biden met with Benjamin Netanyahu today the White House released a statement, saying: “The President again expressed deep sympathy for all those missing, wounded, and killed, and pledged his full support for the Government and people of Israel in the face of an unprecedented and appalling assault by Hamas terrorists.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said Sunday he has ordered the Ford carrier strike group to sail to the Eastern Mediterranean to be ready to assist Israel after the attack by Hamas that has left more than 1,000 dead on both sides. Americans were reported to be among those killed and missing.

The USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, and its approximately 5,000 sailors and deck of warplanes will be accompanied by cruisers and destroyers in a show of force that is meant to be ready to respond to anything, from possibly interdicting additional weapons from reaching Hamas and conducting surveillance.

A brief exchange of strikes between Israel and Hezbollah have also taken place after mortars were fired towards Israeli positions in the disputed Mount Dov/Shebaa Farms area.

Lebanon’s militant group claimed it had carried out the attack “in solidarity with the Palestinian resistance”, raising fears of a broader conflict.

Mr Netanyahu warned Gaza residents, who have no way to leave the territory, to “get out of” areas sheltering Hamas militants likely to be hit.

Overnight Gazans received Israeli text messages telling them to leave their homes and move to city centres or take refuge in shelters.

Palestinians inspect the rubble of a building after it was struck by an Israeli airstrike (Photo: Fatima Shbair/AP)

Gaza’s 2.3 million people have endured a border blockade, enforced to varying degrees by Israel and Egypt, since Hamas militants seized control in 2007.

Officials in Gaza said since Saturday more than 300 people have been killed by Israeli strikes there. Among those killed were 20 children, while 2,000 people were wounded, the Palestinian health ministry said.

On Sunday morning, gun battles raged between Israeli forces and hundreds of Hamas fighters in multiple locations, including at the Sderot police station across the border from Gaza.

Police and Israeli army special forces “neutralised 10 armed terrorists” who were holed up inside the station, a police statement said.

Hamas fighters are reported to have kidnapped up to 100 Israeli soldiers and civilians when they crossed the border and raided communities.

Israelis with missing relatives have been queueing outside a police station in central Israel to supply investigators with DNA samples and other means to help identify their family members.

The Israeli embassy in the UK, meanwhile, confirmed that a British woman has reported her son missing amid fears he may been taken hostage.

A 20-year-old British man serving in the Israeli army was killed in an attack by Hamas militants, his family have said.

Nathanel Young was serving with the Israeli Defence Services when he was killed on the Gaza border on Saturday.

His death comes after 26-year-old Jake Marlow, who went to the same London school at Mr Young, was reported missing while providing security at the music festival.

Gaby Shalev, from London, posted on Facebook: “We’re heartbroken to share that our little brother Nathanel Young was tragically killed on the Gaza Border yesterday.”

Mr Marlowe had been working as a security guard at an outdoor event at Kibbutz Re’im when the attacks took place on Saturday.

Humanitarian group, Doctors Without Borders, said two people died, and several others were injured after Israeli forces struck a hospital and ambulance in Gaza.

In a post on social media, the group said: “Healthcare facilities cannot become targets. We ask all parties to respect health infrastructures, which must remain a sanctuary for people seeking treatment.”

Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, destroyed an Israeli tank in Gaza (Photo: Hani Alshaer/Anadolu Agency via Getty)

Rishi Sunak said the Government is working to establish the status of UK citizens in Israel/

The Prime Minister declared “terrorism will not prevail” and pledged “steadfast support” for his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu as the death toll from the incursion climbed to at least 600 on Sunday.

It comes as The New York Times reported that morgues and hospitals in Gaza are struggling to cope with the number of dead and wounded.

The militant group said it was in response to Israeli violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Rockets fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza are intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome defence missile system (Photo: Eyad Baba/AFP via Getty)

The UK Government’s Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, told the BBC the Government was “unequivocally supporting Israel in this set of events”. He added: “We support them in whatever they decide to do to defend their country against the terrorist attacks”.

Previously, Rishi Sunak said he was “shocked” by the Hamas attacks and that Israel has an “absolute right to defend itself”.

The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting today in light of the escalating violence.

The UK Foreign Office has advised British citizens to only travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories for essential reasons.

*Additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters