Israeli security forces are today carrying out operations to rescue hostages taken by Palestinian militants from Gaza and clear areas they seized on Saturday on the second day of Israel’s war against Hamas.
The military said troops had secured 22 “locations” in southern Israel but were still sweeping through another eight.
The surprise attack by hundreds of gunmen from Hamas, under the cover of intense rocket fire, has reportedly killed at least 600 people in Israel.
More than 310 people in Gaza, presumed to be Palestinians, have been killed in retaliatory Israeli strikes.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday night that Israel was going into a “long and difficult war”. He also warned Hamas, which governs Gaza, that its hideouts would be reduced to “rubble”.
One immediate problems is that a “significant number” of Israeli civilians and soldiers are being held hostage by Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military says.
Some are alive and some are presumed dead, military spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus said.
Children, women, the elderly and the disabled were among those taken, he added.
“These are numbers that were up until now unimaginable,” he said. “This will shape the future of this war.”
According to Hamas, the number of Israelis captured was “several times greater” than dozens, and they had been taken to locations throughout the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas was responsible for their wellbeing and Israel would “settle the score with anyone who harms them”.
One video, that has been verified by the BBC, shows a truck being driven through crowds on the Gaza Strip, purportedly carrying Israeli hostages.
Another video which has been geo-located to the Gaza Strip, shows a barefooted woman being dragged from the back of a truck with bloodied hands tied behind her back.
Some hostages are said to have been taken from an outdoor party in Kibbutz Re’im, a suburb in the city of Ofakim in Israel’s south – not far from Gaza.Witnesses told Israeli media that attackers on motorcycles began firing at attendees, many of whom are still missing.
Videos posted on social media, which have not been verified by the BBC, appear to show one woman who attended the party being kidnapped and held on a motorcycle by two men.
Mr Or had reported her missing, before seeing her and his brother in the videos, both held by several militants.
“I saw Noa in the video scared and frightened, I can’t imagine what’s going through her mind at all – screaming in panic on a motorcycle,” he said in an interview with Israeli broadcaster Channel 12.
A later video – also not verified by the BBC – appears to show her sipping water in a room in Gaza.
“We have no idea how this could have happened.”
That is the reaction Israeli officials have been giving today when asked by journalists how, with all its vast resources, Israeli intelligence did not see this attack coming.
Dozens of armed Palestinian gunmen were able to cross the heavily fortified border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, while thousands of rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel.
With the combined efforts of Shin Bet, Israeli domestic intelligence, Mossad, its external spy agency and all the assets of the Israel Defense Forces, it is frankly astounding that nobody saw this coming.
Or if they did, they failed to act on it.
Israel has arguably the most extensive and well-funded intelligence services in the Middle East.
Not surprisingly the Israeli media has been asking urgent questions of their country’s military and political leaders as to how all this could have occurred, on the 50th anniversary of another surprise attack by Israel’s enemies at the time: the Yom Kippur war of October 1973.
Israeli officials tell me a major investigation has begun and questions, they say, “will go on for years”.
But right now Israel has more pressing priorities. It needs to contain and suppress the infiltration of its southern borders, removing those Hamas militants who have taken control of several communities on the Israeli side of the border fence.
It will need to address the issue of its own citizens who have been taken captive, either through an armed rescue mission or by negotiation.
It will try to eliminate the launch sites for all those rockets being fired into Israel, an almost impossible task of whack-a-mole as they can be launched from almost anywhere with little notice.
Sources: BBC, news agencies.