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JERUSALEM — On the third day of fighting after Hamas militants launched surprise rocket and ground assaults, Israel ordered a complete siege of the Gaza Strip while its military is still trying to remove Hamas gunmen from small communities along the enclave’s border.
Air raid sirens rang out in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as Hamas announced strikes on the two cities, appearing to flex its ability to continue striking at the heart of Israels.
Explosions were heard in Jerusalem, but it was not immediately clear whether they were the sounds of rockets hitting targets. Sonic booms echoed, indicating Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system had been activated.
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Projectiles landed in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem in open areas, as well as on Highway 1, the main route connecting the two cities. Emergency services have not yet recorded reports of casualties.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told the Southern Command there would be a “full siege” over the densely populated enclave. “No electricity, no food, no fuel. We are fighting savages, and we will act accordingly.”
At the same time, Hamas fighters may still be infiltrating the border and entering Israeli territory, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said at a news briefing Monday.
“We are still fighting. We thought this morning that we would be in a better place,” Hecht said. “We still have open areas. I can’t say that they’re not still coming in.”
Hecht said it was taking Israeli forces “more time than we thought” to repel Hamas fighters, in part because of the presence of civilians. “This is not military fighting militants. There are civilians in the midst of it. … We are doing it in a very surgical way. It is taking a lot of time.”
The Israeli military said “most” of the breach points have been secured.
Masha Michelson, deputy head of the IDF for the international media, said Israeli forces “have reestablished control of communities near the Gaza Strip … but isolated clashes continue as some Palestinian gunmen remain active.”
On Sunday, the Israeli government said more than 100 Israelis had been “kidnapped,” with most taken into Gaza.
“This is something different — unprecedented,” Hecht said. “And it’s not soldiers [being held hostage]. … It’s a grandmother, a child, a family, a girl.”
Searching for ways to describe both the scale and surprise of the Hamas attacks, spokespeople repeatedly compared Saturday’s raid to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and to 9/11.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an IDF spokesman, told the BBC “this could be a 9/11 and a Pearl Harbor wrapped into one,” calling it “by far, the worst day in Israeli history. Never before have so many Israelis been killed by one single thing let alone enemy activity on one day.”
Israeli authorities say that some 700 people have been killed in Israel since Hamas launched its attacks on Saturday morning, including 73 soldiers and 260 people attending a music festival near the Gaza border.
Palestinian health officials reported Monday that 493 people have been killed in Gaza since the Israeli airstrikes began. The number of wounded Palestinians has risen to 2,751.
The Israeli air force said Monday that it struck more than 500 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza overnight, including seven Hamas command centers and one used by Islamic Jihad.
Inside Gaza, residents also spent another terrifying night, feeling and hearing the Israeli bombardment from aircraft, artillery and naval ships.
Homes belonging to known Hamas leaders have been leveled. At least two mosques were destroyed. Thousands crowded into schools, seeking shelter. The main hospital in Gaza City was also filled with refugees, alongside the sick and wounded.
The crossing from Gaza into Egypt was still open Monday and was overwhelmed with people trying to flee. Electricity was sporadic, water tanks running dry.
Ordinary people said they were dreading what comes next.
Hamas remained defiant. Spokesman Abdel Latif al-Qanu accused Israel of committing crimes against humanity by killing civilians and said the international community has double standards when it comes to Palestinian deaths.
“The criminal Zionist entity is trying, through the war crimes it’s committing, to rebuild its army’s spirits and its broken soldiers and to snatch the fake image after the elite Qassam’s strikes and its killing and capture of [Israel’s] army and settler herds,” he said in a statement published on the group’s Telegram channel.
Rubin reported from Brussels, Balousha from Gaza City, George from southern Israel, Booth from London. Sarah Dadouch in Beirut contributed to this report.