Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared “war” against Hamas on Saturday after the militant group launched a massive surprise attack on Israel, sending more than 5,000 rockets and dozens of fighters into Israeli villages near the Gaza strip. Israeli authorities said that at least 100 people had died in the attack, the scale of which stunned the country on a major Jewish holiday.
Israel launched retaliatory strikes in Gaza, which Palestinian officials said have killed at least 198 people and injured more than 1,600.
In a recorded video, Netanyahu said he had ordered clearing “the settlements of the terrorists who infiltrated.”
“The enemy will pay a price it has never known before,” he said. “We are in a war, not an operation, in a war.”
The Israeli military said that Hamas militants were holding Israeli civilians and soldiers hostage in Gaza, the Associated Press reported. Israel halted energy supply to the Gaza strip, the country’s energy minister said.
President Joe Biden said in a statement that the U.S. “unequivocally condemns this appalling assault against Israel by Hamas terrorists from Gaza.” Biden said he spoke to Netanyahu and was “ready to offer all appropriate means of support” to his government. “The United States warns against any other party hostile to Israel seeking advantage in this situation,” Biden said.
During their call, Netanyahu said “a forceful, prolonged campaign – which Israel will win – is necessary.”
In a brief address from the White House later Saturday afternoon, Biden underscored that U.S. support for Israel is “rock solid” and said he had directed his national security team to ensure Israel has what it needs to defend itself.
“Israel has the right to defend itself and its people. Full stop. There is never a justification for terrorist attacks,” he said. He called the attacks by Hamas, which the U.S. and European Union designate as a terrorist organization, “unconscionable.”
Biden also spoke with King Abdullah II of Jordan on Saturday and said he had directed his team to be in contact with other countries in the region, European counterparts, and the Palestinian Authority.
A senior Biden administration official described deep and ongoing engagements between the U.S. and Israeli militaries to determine what Israel needs in terms of assistance. “That is very much underway and we might have something to say about it as early as tomorrow,” the official said on a call with reporters Saturday evening.
The White House is also actively discussing the potential impact of the lack of a U.S. House speaker on the ability to provide Israel with defense support. “There probably is a role for Congress here,” the senior administration official said. Without a permanent speaker, the House cannot pass legislation.
— Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report.