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What we know about the Hamas attack on Israel, and Israel's response in Gaza

Hostages held in Gaza before possible invasion
Hostages remain in Gaza as Israel troops prepare for possible ground invasion 02:37

The Hamas militant group attacked Israel on Saturday, Oct. 7, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare, "we are at war." Israel says at least 1,400 people there, most of them civilians, were killed in the coordinated, multi-fronted terror attack launched from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territory Hamas has controlled for years. 

Palestinian health officials say more than 5,000 people, including hundreds of children, were killed in the first two weeks of Israel's retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza, and at least 15,000 more wounded.

The U.S. State Department says 32 Americans are known to have been killed, and 10 U.S. citizens remain unaccounted for after the attack on Israel. Officials say a number of Americans are believed to be among about 200 people taken hostage by Hamas. An American mother and daughter, Judith and Natalie Raanan, who were among those captured, were released by Hamas on Friday, Oct. 20.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza have been displaced, and Israel's military issued a warning that everyone in northern Gaza should evacuate to the south of the enclave, raising expectations that an Israeli invasion was imminent. The U.N. says food, water and fuel supplies are running low, with humanitarian conditions rapidly deteriorating. 

On Tuesday, Oct. 17, Palestinian officials said a deadly explosion at a hospital in Gaza City killed hundreds and they blamed an Israeli airstrike for the blast. But a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said Israel "did not strike that hospital" and that their analysis indicates it was a rocket fired by militants in Gaza that fell short and hit the hospital. What exactly happened has not been independently verified. President Biden said "data I was shown by my Defense Department" convinced him Israel was not responsible.

President Biden visited Israel on Wednesday, Oct. 18, to show support, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. and Israel are developing a plan to enable international aid to reach civilians in Gaza.

Here's what we know so far.

What happened?

Gaza's ruling Hamas militant group launched an unprecedented attack on Israel at daybreak Saturday, Oct. 7, firing thousands of rockets as hundreds of Hamas fighters infiltrated the heavily fortified border in several locations by air, land and sea, catching the country off guard on a major holiday, Simchat Torah, a normally joyous day when Jews complete the annual cycle of reading the Torah scroll. 

In an assault of startling breadth, Hamas gunmen rolled into as many as 22 locations outside the Gaza Strip, including Israeli towns and other communities as far as 15 miles from the Gaza border. In some places they gunned down civilians and soldiers as Israel's military scrambled to muster a response. 

Families were slaughtered in their homes and on the streets, while others were seized by Hamas as hostages. The Israeli military said Monday it has confirmed 199 people are being held captive by Hamas and allied groups. 

Map shows some of the locations of Hamas' attacks in Israel
Map shows some of the locations of Hamas' attacks in Israel Yasin Demirci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Rockets also struck Tel Aviv and other Israeli communities, slamming into homes and businesses.

Militants fired more rockets from Gaza in the days that followed, damaging a hospital in the Israeli coastal town of Ashkelon on Sunday, senior hospital official Tal Bergman said.

A salvo of rockets was fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza City toward Israel on October 7, 2023.  MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images

More than 250 mostly young people who had been attending a music festival near Kibbutz Re'im in the Southern Israeli desert were among the dead after Hamas militants entered the area and began firing into the crowd. Others were apparently dragged away as hostages. Haaretz, one of Israel's largest newspapers, described the scene as a "massacre" and a "battlefield," reporting that terrorists on motorcycles drove into the crowd shooting.

In small Israeli communities near the Gaza border, first responders and security forces arrived to discover evidence of atrocities: families massacred in their homes, even babies and children murdered at the Kfar Aza kibbutz.

"We see blood spread out in homes. We've found bodies of people who have been butchered," said Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Maj. Libby Weiss. "The depravity of it is haunting."

Israel kibbutz the scene of a Hamas “massacre,” first responders say 04:28

Hamas said it's holding "dozens" of Israeli civilians and soldiers captive in the Gaza Strip, and Israel later put the number at about 200. Their capture marks a major escalation in the fighting. President Biden confirmed that a number of American citizens were among those being held; he did not say exactly how many.

A Hamas military official threatened to kill the hostages it was holding if Israeli airstrikes continue "targeting" Gaza residents without warning. "We declare that any targeting of our people in their homes without prior warning will be regrettably faced with the execution of one the hostages of civilians we are holding," a spokesman for Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said in an audio statement on Oct. 9, news agencies reported.

Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan accused Hamas of "blatant, documented war crimes."

Meanwhile, Israeli social media filled up with desperate pleas for information about missing friends and relatives and heart-wrenching tributes to loved ones, including whole families, slaughtered.

Gun battles and rocket fire continued in the days that followed in Israel. An Israeli military official told CBS News on Monday, Oct. 9, that they had regained control of the communities around the Gaza Strip but fighting had not yet ceased.

People try to extinguish fire on cars in Ashkelon, southern Israel, following a Hamas rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, 2023.  AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the Hamas attacks "in the strongest terms," urged maximum restraint and stressed that violence can't solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel's response

In a televised address the night of the attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who earlier declared Israel to be at war, said the military would use all of its strength to destroy Hamas' capabilities. But he warned that "this war will take time. It will be difficult."

"The enemy will pay an unprecedented price," he said, promising that Israel would "return fire of a magnitude that the enemy has not known."

Israel declares war after Hamas launches surprise attack 03:38

Israel's military said it was targeting command centers used by Hamas in the blockaded Gaza Strip, along with another Iran-backed militant group, Islamic Jihad, but many civilians were among those killed.

The Israeli airstrikes in Gaza flattened residential buildings in giant explosions, including a 14-story tower that held dozens of apartments as well as Hamas offices in central Gaza City. 

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that he'd ordered a tightening of the Gaza blockade: "Nothing is allowed in or out. There will be no fuel, electricity or food supplies," he said in a statement. "We fight animals in human form and proceed accordingly."

Israel continue airstrikes in Gaza
Israeli airstrikes on the Islamic National Bank of Gaza destroyed buildings in the Rimal district of Gaza City, Gaza, on Oct. 8, 2023. Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Loudspeakers atop mosques in Gaza City blared stark warnings to residents to evacuate, and within days the U.N. said at least 338,000 Gaza residents have been displaced. 

Israel appeared to be readying for a ground invasion, with thousands of troops massing near the border with Gaza. The United Nations said Israel's military sent a warning on Oct. 12 that everyone in northern Gaza should evacuate to the south of the enclave within 24 hours.

A U.N. spokesperson told CBS News the world body "considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences." Israeli Ambassador Erdan dismissed the U.N.'s response "to Israel's early warning" as "shameful" and said it ignored the brutality of the attack on Israel.

Airstrikes continued in following days in both the north and south.

What is Hamas, and what's the Iran link?

Hamas is the Palestinian militant faction that governs the Gaza Strip, a 230-square-mile area where more than 2 million people live. Israel and the U.S. have designated Hamas a terror organization.

Hamas is backed by Iran and gets most of its funding and support from the Iranian regime. 

"What I can say, without a doubt, is that Iran is broadly complicit in these attacks," U.S. deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said on "CBS Mornings" Monday. "Iran has been Hamas' primary backer for decades. They have provided them weapons. They have provided them training. They have provided them financial support. And so, in terms of broad complicity, we are very clear about a role for Iran."

Iran's Foreign Ministry on Monday denied reports that the country had a direct role in planning or carrying out the attack, with spokesman Nasser Kanani telling reporters in Tehran that the Palestinians had "the necessary capacity and will to defend their nation and recover their rights" without help from their primary benefactors in Tehran. 

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh claimed in an address Saturday that the fight would expand to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and to Jerusalem, Reuters reported.

"How many times have we warned you that the Palestinian people have been living in refugee camps for 75 years, and you refuse to recognize the rights of our people?" Reuters quoted Haniyeh as saying.

Hamas calls for Israel's destruction and has opposed past efforts at Israeli-Palestinian peace accords, using tactics including suicide bombings to attack the Jewish state. 

Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007. The blockade, which restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the enclave, has devastated the Palestinian territory's economy. Israel has defended the blockade as necessary to keep militants in Gaza from stockpiling weapons — though Hamas clearly managed to obtain an arsenal of rockets and other weaponry despite the restrictions.

Over the years, fighting has flared up repeatedly between Israel and Hamas and other militant groups based in Gaza, including the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad.

What have U.S. leaders said in response to the attack?

Officials across the U.S. responded quickly to condemn the Hamas attack.

"The people of Israel are under attack, orchestrated by a terrorist organization, Hamas," President Biden said Saturday in brief remarks at the White House. "I want to say to them and to the world, and to terrorists everywhere, that the United States stands with Israel."

The president said he was in contact with King Abdullah II of Jordan about the situation, along with U.S. congressional leaders. He said he'd directed his team to maintain contact with "leaders throughout the region."

"We'll make sure that they [Israel] have the help their citizens need, and they can continue to defend themselves," Mr. Biden added.

President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken
President Joe Biden, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, condemned the attack and vowed U.S. support for Israel in remarks from White House  on Oct. 7, 2023.  JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

On Oct. 10, he spoke again from the White House and called the attacks "pure, unadulterated evil" at the "bloody hands" of Hamas.

"In this moment, we must be crystal clear: We stand with Israel. We stand with Israel," he said. "And we will make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, to defend itself and to respond to this attack."

In an Oval Office address on Oct. 19, he made the case that billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Israel as well as Ukraine would "pay dividends for American security" for years to come.

Mr. Biden also spoke with the families of some of the Americans who are missing and possibly held hostage by Hamas.

"I think they have to know that the president of the United States of America cares deeply about what's happened to them — deeply," Mr. Biden told CBS News' Scott Pelley in an interview for 60 Minutes. "We have to communicate to the world this is critical. This is not even human behavior. It's pure barbarism. And we're going to do everything in our power to get them home if we can find them." 

President Joe Biden: The 2023 60 Minutes Interview 13:33

Leaders in New York, New Jersey and other communities across the U.S. condemned the attacks. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, whose city is home to the largest Jewish population outside Israel, called the attack a "cowardly action by a terrorist organization."

Adams said city authorities are monitoring the situation for any possible threats to the local community.

"While there is no credible threat to New York City at this time, our administration is in touch with Jewish leaders across the five boroughs, and we have directed the NYPD to deploy additional resources to Jewish communities and houses of worship citywide to ensure that our communities have the resources they need to make sure everyone feels safe," Adams said in a statement. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed Sunday that the U.S. would be "rapidly providing the Israel Defense Forces with additional equipment and resources, including munitions." 

Austin said he had directed the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the eastern Mediterranean, which includes an aircraft carrier and the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Normandy. 

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