At least 258 Israeli soldiers have been killed in fighting against Palestinian militants since Hamas militants streamed into Israel from the Gaza Strip on Saturday, the army said Friday. “The bereaved families of the fallen soldiers have been formally notified,” an army spokesman, Daniel Hagari, told a press briefing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war in response to the attack, which his military called “unprovoked, brutal hostilities.” “We will return fire of a magnitude the enemy has never seen,” he said. The armed wing of Hamas, known as the Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the attacks, which included an assault on an army base in southern Israel and the kidnapping of seven Israeli citizens, including two children.
Hamas fighters launched rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel, and Israeli aircraft pounded the enclave with airstrikes. The enclave, home to some two million people, has been rocked by the bombardment, and residents reported water and fuel shortages. Huge plumes of smoke rose from many homes and neighborhoods in the crowded exclave. Hundreds of airstrikes have hit the territory, where hospitals and schools operate without power or functioning at total capacity because of a severe electricity crisis. The hamlets of Shejaya, Zeita, and Rafah in the central part of the strip were hardest hit. The Israeli military has also been targeting government ministries run by Hamas, mosques, and other civilian buildings in the 139-square-mile strip. In one of the latest strikes, an airstrike struck the Ahmed Yassin Mosque in the al-Shati refugee camp near northern Gaza on Monday morning, the Palestinian Ministry of health reported. Several people were wounded in the attack.
The United States, meanwhile, has sent additional weapons to Israel and deployed an aircraft carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean. President Biden phoned Netanyahu Sunday to offer his support and to urge him to take the lead in defending the country, the White House said. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. would send a ship carrying additional supplies of munitions to the eastern Mediterranean and was moving the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group there to demonstrate American support for Washington’s closest Middle East ally.
The Pentagon has said it is working to verify reports that dozens of Americans were among the dead and missing from the weekend attacks on Israel. If verified, the number of Americans killed or wounded could rise significantly. The Pentagon has notified the primary next of kin of those missing, and they will be kept informed as information becomes available. Those notified will receive updates via email or telephone, depending on their location. In cases where officials do not have solid evidence that a specific Soldier was involved in an incident but have strong reason to believe they were, families will be given what is known as a “believed to be” notification.