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Israel is trying to regain full control of its territory following Hamas attack

Smoke from an Israeli airstrike rises in Gaza City on Monday.
Hatem Moussa
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AP
Smoke from an Israeli airstrike rises in Gaza City on Monday.

Updated October 9, 2023 at 5:34 AM ET

The Israeli military said Monday it was still battling Hamas militants in several locations inside Israel's borders — on the third day after the attack from Gaza by hundreds of Hamas fighters.

A military spokesman said there are still breaches in the barrier between the Gaza Strip and Israel where militants could be entering the country.

"We thought this morning we'd be in a better place," said Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, one of the army's spokesmen.

Israeli media reported more than 700 people were killed by Hamas. The Associated Press reported that militants claimed to have taken some 130 captives — including women and children. The figure is unconfirmed.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said it has struck 1,000 targets in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian health officials said at least 493 people have been killed, including 91 children and 61 women. Around 2,750 have been injured. In other areas, the Palestinian Health Ministry said 15 Palestinians have been killed since Saturday, among them two minors, and 80 wounded across six different locations in West Bank and Jerusalem.

"Where are the international community's responses to this?" the ministry said Sunday.

For some 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza, leaving Hamas-linked areas isn't so simple. On Monday, Gaza City residents faced life with no electricity and its main hospital began running low on supplies.

"I have given an order — Gaza will be under complete closure," Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement. "There will be no electricity, food or fuel [delivered to Gaza]. We are fighting barbaric [terrorists] and will respond accordingly."

As of Sunday evening, the United Nations says more than 123,000 Palestinians had been displaced in Gaza. Many have sought shelter in U.N.-run schools.

The U.N. also says that damage from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza has undermined the provision of water, sanitation, and hygiene services to over 400,000 people.

For more than 16 years, the Gaza Strip has been under a blockade by Israel and Egypt that restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the territory.

Ruba Akkila, a resident of Gaza, said that after Israel announced it will cut off even food supplies to the territory, she saw a man looking for remains of food in a garbage bin outside her building.

"This is going to be a really difficult thing for us," she said. "We are living in the unknown. We don't know if we are going to get a next meal."

In Gaza, residents say there is no safe place to run

"We are going to respond very, very severely to this," Hecht saidearlier Sunday. "In a way, this is our 9/11."

On Sunday, Israel conducted hundreds of air strikes – hitting apartment buildings, Hamas members' homes and at least 10 mosques in Gaza. Pictures showed rubble surrounding a mosque that was destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip.

It's been difficult to reach the injured as ambulances are struggling to reach people under the rubble. Several ambulances and one hospital have already been struck by Israeli airstrikes since Saturday.

In some cases, Israel gives a brief warning to residents of an incoming attack. In others, there is no warning.

Israel Defense Forces said its aircraft attacked two "operational situation rooms" used by Hamas inside mosques in Gaza.

People stand outside a mosque destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Oct.8, 2023.
Yousef Masoud / AP
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AP
People stand outside a mosque destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, on Sunday.

Palestinian Health Ministry Director-General Dr. Medhat Abbas told NPR on Sunday that there is no safe place to run to in Gaza.

His pregnant daughter, who is a doctor herself, was unable to run on foot after she received warning of an incoming Israeli airstrike on a home near hers. He said she called him panicking, unsure what to do. He advised her to lean crouch by a wall. He said these are the conditions residents in Gaza face, and that the hospitals are not prepared with enough hospital beds nor stocked well enough for war.

"They say we have not started yet, we have not started yet. What's the meaning of they will start? We don't know what will happen if they will start," he said, referring to Israel's response thus far. "Are they planning for a big massacre in Gaza? I don't know. But they are only civilians who will pay for that."

The surprise assault began Saturday at dawn

Early Saturday, at 6:30 a.m. local time, Palestinian militants launched a large-scale surprise attack from the blockaded Gaza Strip on civilian and military targets in Israel. They infiltrated using paragliders, an amphibious operation on the Mediterranean Sea, and on land, Hecht told reporters.

Israel said Hamas fighters came in from some 29 points from Gaza to attack towns and military bases.

A border fence was breached with explosives — and also with heavy equipment, according to videos from the scene.

Simultaneously, Palestinian militants in Gaza fired heavy barrages of rockets toward Israel — more than 3,000 rockets throughout the day, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Air raid sirens and loud booms were heard in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across central and southern Israel.

A plume of smoke rises above buildings in Gaza City during an Israeli air strike, on October 8, 2023.
Mohammed Abed / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
A plume of smoke rises above buildings in Gaza City during an Israeli air strike on Sunday.

Among the militants' targets was a dance festival being held in a rural area near the Israel-Gaza border and where thousands of young people were celebrating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Local rescue services said about 260 attendees were killed, while others were taken hostage.

The military also confirmed that Israelis were taken hostage back to Gaza but has not said how many. Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said "a very large amount" of people were taken, including women, children, infants, elderly and disabled people.

Late on Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed in a TV address that Israel will "reach into every place Hamas is hiding" and turn those locations into ruins. Israel's military is calling up reservist soldiers, reinforcing positions and launching airstrikes on targets in Gaza. Early on Monday, IDF spokesperson Conricus said the military has "amassed around 100,000 reserve troops who are currently in southern Israel."

Rockets are fired toward Israel from Gaza, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023.
Fatima Shbair / AP
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AP
Rockets are fired toward Israel from Gaza on Saturday.

Hamas, the Islamist militant group, took control of Gaza in 2007.

Anyone in areas where Hamas operates in the Gaza Strip should "leave those places now," Netanyahu said. He added, "Israel will settle the score with anyone who harms them."

In the north of the Israel, there have been strikes exchanged across the border with Lebanon, raising alarm at heightening regional tensions. Israel struck a site in Lebanon, after mortar fire into Israel that was claimed by the Hezbollah militant group. Hezbollah's involvement opens up the possibility of a multi-front conflict involving Israel, Gaza and Lebanon.

Countries in the Arab world and beyond react to the unrest

Israeli police officers evacuate a woman and a child from a site hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. The rockets were fired as Hamas announced a new operation against Israel.
Tsafrir Abayov / AP
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AP
Israeli police officers evacuate a woman and a child from a site hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, on Saturday. The rockets were fired as Hamas announced a new operation against Israel.

There are fears the brutality could spread. An Egyptian policeman opened fire on Israeli tourists Sunday in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, killing at least two Israelis and one Egyptian, local media reported.

Powers in the region have issued calls for a stop to the violence. The Saudi Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling for "an immediate end to the escalation of the conflict."

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan spoke with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. A Saudi statement said the kingdom rejects the targeting of civilians, and all sides should respect international humanitarian law.

In Iran, hardliners have been incensed for months over reports that Saudi Arabia might establish diplomatic ties with Israel. In Tehran, the Foreign Ministry spokesman referred to Israeli visits to Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque as a "desecration" and called the attack a "spontaneous move by ... resistance groups."

The U.S. has responded in support of Israel. President Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu Saturday morning, telling him the U.S. is "ready to offer all appropriate means of support" to Israel. The two spoke again Sunday for the second time this weekend.

"Terrorism is never justified," Biden said in a statement on Saturday. "Israel has a right to defend itself and its people."

Israeli police retrieve weapons used by militants outside a police station that was overrun by Hamas gunmen on Saturday, in Sderot, Israel, Sunday, Oct.8, 2023. Hamas militants stormed over the border fence Saturday, killing hundreds of Israelis in surrounding communities.
Ohad Zwigenberg / AP
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AP
Israeli police retrieve weapons used by militants outside a police station that was overrun by Hamas gunmen on Saturday, in Sderot, Israel, on Sunday. Hamas militants stormed over the border fence Saturday, killing hundreds of Israelis in surrounding communities.

The president said his administration's "support for Israel's security is rock solid and unwavering."

Blinken told CNN Sunday morning that Americans are reportedly among those killed and among the hostages taken to Gaza, but officials were still working to verify those reports.

Defense officials also announced Sunday that the U.S. was sending the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean in support of Israel.

High-level U.S. officials are in communication with counterparts in Israel and regional allies, from Blinken to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin — who said the Pentagon will continue to consult with Israel to make sure it has the support it needs.

What additional support, if any, is uncertain, U.S. officials tell NPR. The United States provides billions of dollars each year in assistance to Israel and helped the country build its Iron Dome missile defense system.

The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem urged all sides to refrain from violence and retaliatory attacks, stating, "Terror and violence solve nothing."

Aya Batrawy and James Doubek contributed reporting.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Daniel Estrin
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Peter Kenyon
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Larry Kaplow
Larry Kaplow edits the work of NPR's correspondents in the Middle East and helps direct coverage about the region. That has included NPR's work on the Syrian civil war, the Trump administration's reduction in refugee admissions, the Iran nuclear deal, the US-backed fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.