Israel vows to “destroy Hamas” as death toll rises from unprecedented attack

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Israeli soldiers continued battling Hamas militants in the streets of southern Israel Sunday, while in the north of the country they exchanged fire with Hezbollah militants launching rockets from Lebanon. Some Israeli communities along the Lebanon border were urged to evacuate.

Israeli officials confirmed to CBS News on Sunday that at least 600 Israeli civilians and members of the military had died since Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel from Gaza early Saturday morning. Another 2,000 were wounded. 

 Many Israelis, both civilians and security forces, have reportedly been taken hostage.

It was the deadliest day in decades in the long-running Israel-Palestinian conflict. More than 300 Palestinians have been killed in retaliatory Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, Palestinian health officials said Sunday. 

“The people of Israel are under attack, orchestrated by a terrorist organization, Hamas,” President Biden said Saturday. “I want to say to them and to the world, and to terrorists everywhere, that the United States stands with Israel.”

“We’ll make sure that they have the help their citizens need, and they can continue to defend themselves,” Mr. Biden added.

Other U.S. politicians were quick to condemn the Hamas assault and pledge support for Israel.

Who attacked Israel?

Early Saturday morning, as Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip launched thousands of missiles from the small, blockaded Palestinian territory, dozens more broke through the heavily fortified border fence and crossed into Israeli communities on motorcycles, paragliders and pickup trucks, initiating an offensive that appeared to take Israel completely by surprise. 

Hamas sent fighters storming into an estimated 22 separate locations in southern Israel, shooting people in the streets and abducting both civilians and Israel security forces and taking them back to Gaza.

Hamas is the Palestinian militant faction that governs the Gaza Strip, a 230-square-mile area where more than two million people live. Israel and the U.S. have designated Hamas a terror organization, and both countries accuse Iran of directly funding and supporting the group.

Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world and has been under Israeli blockade since 2007.

Israeli authorities said they were still fighting Hamas militants in six locations inside Israel Sunday morning.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that Israel was engaged in “a long and difficult war,” and he vowed that the Israeli military would use all of its strength to destroy Hamas.

“All the places that Hamas hides in, operates from, we will turn them into ruins,” Netanyahu said.

“Get out of there,” Netanyahu urged Gaza residents, who have no way to leave the blockaded territory, as Israel cut off electricity to the region.

The Lebanon-based Hezbollah group, meanwhile, said it fired dozens of rockets Sunday morning at Israeli positions in a disputed, Israeli-occupied region known as the Golan Heights, which borders Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Hezbollah said the attack using “large numbers of rockets and shells” was launched in solidarity with the “Palestinian resistance.”

The U.S. government says that, like Hamas, Hezbollah gets most of its funding and support from Iran.  

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