Civilians and soldiers held hostage in Gaza after unprecedented assault on Israel

ITV News Correspondent John Ray reports on one of the most significant escalations of the Israel Palestine conflicts in decades

Palestinian militants have launched an unprecedented attack on Israel, with fighters breaching the border abducting both soldiers and civilians and taking them prisoner in Gaza.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to "take revenge for this black day", after Islamist group Hamas bombarded his country with 5,000 missiles on Saturday morning.

The Israeli rescue service Zaka said at least 200 people were killed and 1,100 wounded, making it the deadliest attack in Israel in decades.

At least 232 people in Hamas-governed Gaza have been killed and at least 1,700 wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as Israel launches retaliatory strikes.

Hamas has claimed it launched 5,000 missiles into Israel. Credit: AP

Backed by a barrage of rockets, militants rolled into as many as 22 locations outside the Gaza Strip, including towns and other communities as far as 15 miles from its border.

They roamed for hours, gunning down civilians and soldiers as Israel’s military scrambled to muster a response. Gun battles continued well after nightfall, and militants held hostages in standoffs in two towns.

Militants used explosives to break through the border fence enclosing Gaza, then crossed with motorcycles, pickup trucks, paragliders and speed boats on the coast.

Palestinians celebrate by a destroyed Israeli tank at the Gaza Strip fence east of Khan Younis. Credit: AP

Hamas’ military wing claimed it was holding dozens of Israeli soldiers captive in “safe places” and tunnels in the Gaza Strip.

Social media has been filled with videos showing Hamas fighters dragging lifeless Israeli soldiers on the ground and parading captured civilians - some bloodied - through the streets of Gaza.

The Israeli military confirmed that a number of Israelis were abducted in the country's south, but would not give a figure.

A car destroyed in an attack by Palestinian militants is seen in Sderot, Israel. Credit: AP

If true, the claim could set the stage for complicated negotiations on a swap with Israel, which is holding thousands of Palestinians in its prisons.

When Hamas militants captured Gilad Shalit, a young Israeli conscript, in June 2006, he was held for five years until his release in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.

Speaking in a television address, Mr Netanyahu pledged that Hamas would "pay a price that it hasn't known until now".

He added that he had ordered Israel's military to clear any infiltrated towns of Hamas militants.

Israeli firefighters extinguish a car park fire after a missile strike. Credit: AP

In a later speech on Saturday night, he said the military will use all of its strength to destroy Hamas’ capabilities and "take revenge for this black day. But he warned: “This war will take time. It will be difficult."

Mr Netanyahu added: “All the places that Hamas hides in, operates in, we will turn them into ruins."

In a message to Gaza residents, who have no way to leave the tiny and overcrowded territory of two million people, he added: "Get out of there now."

Palestinians transport a captured Israeli civilian from Kibbutz Kfar Azza on a golf cart into the Gaza Strip. Credit: AP

In a recorded message, the leader of Hamas' military wing, Mohammed Deif, called on Palestinians to join the fight.

He claimed the attack was a response to a 16-year blockade of Gaza, Israeli raids inside West Bank cities over the past year, violence at Al Aqsa — the disputed Jerusalem holy site sacred to Jews as the Temple Mount — increasing attacks by settlers on Palestinians and growth of settlements.

After nightfall, Israeli airstrikes in Gaza intensified, flattening several residential buildings in giant explosions, including a 14-story tower that held dozens of apartments as well as Hamas offices in central Gaza City.

A ball of fire and smoke rise from an explosion on a Palestinian apartment tower following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City. Credit: AP

Israeli forces fired a warning just before, and there were no reports of casualties. Soon after, a Hamas rocket barrage into central Israel hit four cities, including Tel Aviv and a nearby suburb.

In Gaza, much of the population was thrown into darkness after nightfall, as electrical supplies from Israel – which supplies almost all the territories’ power – was cut off.

International figures have jointly condemned the attacks, including the leaders of France, Germany and the European Union (EU).

Police officers evacuate a woman and a child from an area in southern Israel. Credit: AP

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was "shocked" by the attacks, adding Israel has "an absolute right to defend itself".

Writing on X, he said: "I am shocked by this morning's attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli citizens.

"Israel has an absolute right to defend itself. We're in contact with Israeli authorities, and British nationals in Israel should follow travel advice."

Palestinians inspect the rubble of a building after it was struck by an Israeli airstrike. Credit: AP

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also criticised the violence, saying: "There is no justification for this act of terror which is being perpetrated by those who seek to undermine any chance for future peace in the region."

US President Joe Biden condemned “this appalling assault against Israel by Hamas terrorists from Gaza.”

He spoke with Netanyahu and said Israel “has a right to defend itself and its people,” according to a White House statement.

Israeli security forces take cover during rocket attack siren warning in Ashkelon. Credit: AP

Saudi Arabia, which has been in talks with the US about normalizing relations with Israel, called on both sides to exercise restraint.

The kingdom said it had repeatedly warned about the danger of “the situation exploding as a result of the continued occupation (and) the Palestinian people being deprived of their legitimate rights”.

The attacks come after weeks of heightened tensions along Israel's volatile border with Gaza, and at a time when Mr Netanyahu's divisive judiciary overhaul plans have appeared to undermine the country's military preparedness.

Palestinians ride on an Israeli military vehicle taken by an army base overrun by Hamas militants near the Gaza Strip fence, in Gaza City. Credit: AP

Hundreds of Israeli military reservists have either pulled out of training sessions or said they won't report for duty over the judicial changes.

It also comes at a time of mounting tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, with the peace process effectively dead for years.

Over the past year Israel’s right-wing government has ramped up settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, Israeli settler violence has displaced hundreds of Palestinians there and tensions have flared around a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site.

Israel has maintained a blockade over Gaza since Hamas, an Islamist militant group that opposes Israel, seized control of the territory in 2007.

In the years since, the opposing sides have fought four wars and been engaged in numerous smaller rounds of fighting.

The blockade, which restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, has devastated the territory's economy.

Israel says the blockade is needed to keep militant groups from building up their arsenals, but Palestinians argue the closure amounts to collective punishment.

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