Jerusalem/Gaza, Oct 8 (EFE).- Nearly 1,000 people have died and thousands more have been wounded on both sides in the fighting between the Israeli forces and Hamas militants that raged for the second day on Sunday after heavily armed Islamist fighters from the Gaza Strip stormed into southern Israel in a surprise assault.
Israeli media, including the Kan public broadcaster and Channel 12, citing health department sources, said at least 600 people have been killed in the Jewish state after the cross-border incursion by Hamas militants on Saturday.
However, there has been no official confirmation of the number of fatalities on the Israeli side since the fighting began.
The Israeli health ministry said more than 2,000 injured people were receiving medical care in different hospitals. These include 350 critically wounded Israelis.
Palestinian health officials said the fatalities in the blockaded enclave rose to 370, including 20 children. However, they did not specify how many were militants and civilians. The number of wounded in Gaza reached 2,200 on Sunday.
The Israeli Army said its retaliatory strikes on the blockaded enclave killed more than 400 Palestinian militants in Gaza and many more inside Israeli territory.
Daniel Hagari, the spokesperson for Israel Defense Forces, said the military also arrested dozens more militants during the fighting in southern Israel and the Gaza Strip.
“Hundreds of terrorists died after they infiltrated and tried to return to Gaza,” Hagari told reporters after a series of deadly Israeli bombings in the enclave.
“Forces are fighting, and there are searches in a large number of towns. There are IDF forces in all towns,” Hagari said.
He said the Israeli forces would evacuate all residents living around Gaza in the next 24 hours, indicating that they planned a larger offensive to set free hostages abducted by Hamas infiltrators from the Israeli border towns, whose fate was not known until Sunday.
A military source confirmed to EFE that Israeli troops were fighting the Palestinians in several Israeli neighborhoods near Gaza.
Hagari said the army had hit 500 Hamas targets, including the group’s “military infrastructure, homes of commanders, and symbols of the Hamas regime.”
The Israeli government formally declared on Sunday that it was at war with Hamas in a symbolic announcement to set the stage for a possible intensified offensive against the Islamist militant group.
The declaration came after the cabinet security panel approved a wider mandate to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the military to take “significant military steps” in fighting Palestinian militants.
A Hamas spokesperson said the group sent more fighters and weapons to the territory of the Jewish state to reinforce the militiamen fighting the Israeli Army.
He said the fresh infiltration was carried out simultaneously with the launch of more than 100 rockets from Gaza toward Israeli territory across the enclave.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a meeting with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Army Chief Herzi Halevi, and senior security officials to analyze the situation after announcing that Israel “is embarking on a long and difficult war.”
The conflict escalated after the surprise attack by Hamas, a group considered terrorist by Israel, the United States, and the European Union, on Saturday morning.
Israeli security forces, caught off-guard by the Hamas offensive, launched retaliatory action, bombing Gaza and leveling buildings, including Hamas offices, in the enclave.
“Fighter jets recently attacked a military infrastructure at the home of the head of the intelligence department of the terrorist organization Hamas,” the IDF said Sunday.
According to sources in Gaza, the bombings targeted 17 homes of Hamas leaders and damaged six residential towers and eight homes, in addition to claiming the lives of civilians.
The Israeli military said its naval forces thwarted five Palestinian militiamen on Zikim Beach in southern Israel and prevented their infiltration into residential areas.
Israeli authorities declared a state of emergency throughout the country, in addition to demarcating a closed military zone around the Gaza Strip to evacuate all residents of the area. EFE