A senior leader of the militant group has told Al Jazeera that high-ranking officers are among its detainees
Hamas militants have reportedly captured so many Israeli soldiers, including high-ranking officers, that the group expects to negotiate a prisoner exchange for all Palestinians held in West Jerusalem’s jails.
“We have a big number of Israeli captives, among them senior officers,” Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri told Al Jazeera on Saturday. He added that the captives will be used as leverage to force the release of Palestinians incarcerated in Israel: “As to our prisoners, I say, your freedom is looming large. What we have in hand will see you set free. The longer fighting continues, the higher the number of prisoners will become.”
A public radio report indicated that captives were being held in three communities inside Israel and that some of the detainees were missing and had possibly been moved to Gaza. Hamas launched a surprise attack against Israel on Saturday, firing rockets from Gaza and deploying ground forces in several Israeli towns and military bases.
At least 100 Israelis have been killed, according to the country’s N12 News outlet, while “hundreds of terrorists have been eliminated” in southern Israel and Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin vowed to retaliate, saying, “Our enemy will pay a price the type of which it has never known. We are in a war, and we will win it.”
The Israeli military responded with airstrikes in Gaza and claimed to have killed dozens of Palestinian militants trying to infiltrate the country by sea. Gaza’s health ministry reported 198 deaths and over 1,600 injuries. Israeli energy minister Israel Katz said the supply of electricity to Gaza would be cut off amid the fighting.
Al Jazeera television showed a residential tower being hit by an air strike while one of its journalists was reporting live from the scene in central Gaza City.
Hamas dubbed its major offensive “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” and said it was motivated by escalating Israeli attacks on Palestinians. “This is the day of the greatest battle to end the last occupation on earth,” Hamas military commander Mohammad Deif said in a broadcast message to Palestinians. He called on Palestinians everywhere to join the fight.
Nearly 5,200 Palestinians are currently held in Israeli jails and detention centers, according to an estimate by activist group Addameer.