Hamas, the group running the besieged Gaza Strip, announces the start of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood against Israel, Al Jazeera reported.
It says it has fired was thousands of rockets towards Israel.
Israeli military radio also reports that Palestinian fighters from Gaza have “infiltrated” Israel.
The unprecedented offensive started a few minutes before 7 a.m. as Israelis celebrated the last day of the weeklong Sukkot festival, with hundreds of rockets fired at Israel, according to Press TV.
Red alert warning sirens were activated in Tel Aviv, Sde Boker, Arad, and Dimona in the south as explosions were heard by residents on Saturday. In al-Quds, rocket sirens sounded followed by the sound of explosions.
Cars were seen on fire after a rocket landed in Ashkelon, southern Israel.
Hamas’ armed wing said more than 7,000 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Saturday, declaring it had started “Operation al-Aqsa Flood”.
“We decided to put an end to all the crimes of the occupation, their time for rampaging without being held accountable is over,” Hamas said. “We announce Operation al-Aqsa Flood and we fired, in the first strike of 20 minutes, more than 5,000 rockets.”
The occupation forces are fighting Hamas fighters in seven locations in southern Israel near the fence with the Gaza Strip.
The gun battles are taking place in and around the towns of Kfar Aza, Sderot, Sufa, Nahal Oz, Magen, Be’eri, and the Re’im military base, the Times of Israel reported.
Pictures show armed men on vehicles inside Israel; there is also footage of Palestinian fighters taking Israelis hostage.
At least 40 Israelis dead, 750 injured
Al Jazeera’s Sara Khairat, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, says that the Israeli government has confirmed that the number of Israelis killed has risen to at least 40.
The previous number, reported by emergency services, was 22.
“More than 750 Israelis have been injured,” our correspondent said, adding that the numbers are likely to continue to increase.
The Israeli police southern district has said the fighting is likely to continue in the days ahead.
“This will probably go on for days. Some of the casualties are police officers,” the police said, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The newspaper added that rocket sirens continue to sound in Israeli areas close to the border fence and in the southern city of Sderot.
Saturday events are ‘game-changing’ for region’s politics: analyst
Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor at Qatar University, says events of the last few hours have been “game-changing for the politics of the region”.
“For the first time, the resistance movement decided to react against the occupiers and the military … I think the Israeli side is facing a real challenge in tackling its image now. Also the narrative created by Hamas with regional and international players is interesting,” he said.
Israeli local official killed in firefight
The head of a regional council for Israeli border areas northeast of the Gaza Strip has been killed in a firefight, according to the council.
“The president of the regional council, Ofir Liebstein, was killed during an exchange of fire with terrorists,” the Shaar Negev regional council said in a statement.
Palestinians at Erez crossing
Pictures show Palestinians entering the Erez, or Beit Hanoun, crossing in the northern Gaza Strip, after the Israeli army announced it had lost control of it.
Israeli vehicles were also confiscated from Israeli sites near the Gaza Strip fence.
For years, people living in the Gaza Strip have had to contend with unemployment, power cuts, and the hardship brought on by the Israeli blockade.
The area of 365 sq km (141 sq miles) has also had to withstand many Israeli assaults during the past seven years, the last of which was in September when Israel used drones and a tank to attack protesters, leaving 22 injured.
In June 2007, Israel imposed an airtight land, sea and air blockade on the area and controls Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters, and two of the three border crossing points; the third is controlled by Egypt.
Unemployment has risen from 23.6 percent before the blockade to 47 percent at the end of 2022. The poverty rate has also increased from 40 percent in 2005 to 61.6 percent in 2022, according to the Geneva-based Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.
Residents have to endure power cuts that average 12 hours a day, especially in periods of intense demand during the warmer months.
Events ‘a decisive response to Israel’s continued occupation’: Hezbollah
The Lebanese Hezbollah resistance group has said they are following the situation in Gaza and are “in direct contact with the leadership of the Palestinian resistance”.
It said recent events are “a decisive response to Israel’s continued occupation and a message to those seeking normalization with Israel”.
‘Attack tremendous shock for Israelis’
Reporting from Ashkelon in southern Israel, Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds says the unprecedented attack has left Israelis in “tremendous shock”.
“I spoke by text with an acquaintance in Tel Aviv. She says she was hurrying to get into a bomb shelter. The fact that several villages including some towns were attacked and captured – this is something that has never happened before,” Reynolds said.
“This took a lot of planning, strategising from Hamas,” he noted.
“It is also [near the anniversary] of the October War of 1973, when Israel was taken by surprise by Egypt and Syria. It appears maybe there is some symbolism there,” he added.
Israeli schools will be closed on Sunday
The Israeli Education Ministry says all kindergartens and schools will remain closed across the country on Sunday, expanding a previously announced decision.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves against the “terror of settlers and occupation troops”, WAFA news agency quoted him as saying.
The Fatah leader chaired an emergency leadership meeting that included civilian and security officials, where he gave instructions to provide protection for Palestinians.