October 7, 2023: Israel says it is 'at war' after Hamas surprise attack

By Andrew Raine, Chris Lau, Joshua Berlinger, Aditi Sangal, Thom Poole and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 8:21 p.m. ET, November 9, 2023
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7:58 p.m. ET, October 7, 2023

Israel's former Mossad chief: "We didn't have an inkling of what was going on"

From CNN’s Shirin Zia Faqiri

The former chief of Mossad has told CNN that "We had no warning of any kind, and it was a total surprise that the war broke out this morning.”

Efraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad, Israel’s Intelligence Service, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Saturday that Hamas militants had launched thousands of rockets at Israel on Saturday.

“The number of missiles they have launched within less than 24 hours is over 3,000. This is beyond imagination from our point of view, and we didn’t know they had this quantity of missiles, and we certainly didn’t expect that they would be as effective as they were today,” he said.

Halevy also said that the number of rockets fired by Palestinian militants on Saturday morning had “never seen before.” He told CNN that this was a “unique attack” and “the first time” that Gaza has been able to “penetrate deep into Israel and to take control of villages.”

“As an operation, it was highly successful, unfortunately, I think it was well coordinated,” Halevy said.

Halevy said that he suspects the rockets were manufactured in the Gaza strip after being "smuggled in by sea" and that Hamas “probably” was able to perform “trial training” without letting Israeli forces discover their plans.

 “We didn’t have an inkling of what was going on,” he said.

7:34 p.m. ET, October 7, 2023

Israel's Navy "thwarted" an attack in southern Zikim Beach, IDF says

From CNN's Hadas Gold 

Israeli naval forces stopped a potential attack in the southern Israeli area of the Zikim Beach late on Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement.

"Over the past hours, the Israeli Navy identified seven terrorists in the area of Zikim Beach in Israeli territory. In response, IDF naval soldiers and IDF aircraft targeted the terrorists and prevented infiltration into residential areas," the IDF said.

Israeli fighter jets "struck three operational command centers, used by the Hamas terrorist organization to carry out terrorism against Israel from the Gaza Strip," the IDF added.

Zikim Beach lies just beyond Gaza's norther border with Israel.

8:10 p.m. ET, October 7, 2023

IDF tells civilians in Gaza to leave their houses

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq

People inspect the destroyed surroundings of the Palestine Tower in Gaza City after Israeli warplanes targeted it October 7.
People inspect the destroyed surroundings of the Palestine Tower in Gaza City after Israeli warplanes targeted it October 7. Mohammed Saber/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have urged civilians in Gaza to leave their residential areas immediately for their safety as Israeli military operations continue to target Hamas following Saturday's surprise attacks.

"Residents of the Gaza Strip, pay attention! Hamas operations force the IDF to operate in your place of residence. For your safety, you must leave your place of residence immediately," Avichay Adraee, IDF spokesman for the Arab media, said in a post on X on Sunday.

The post includes four videos that give instructions to civilians in Gaza on where to go in each area of the city.

Some context: Almost 2 million people live in Gaza's 140 square miles. Governed by Hamas, the densely packed territory is largely cut off from the rest of the world by an Israeli blockade of Gaza’s land, air and sea dating back to 2007. Egypt controls Gaza’s southern border crossing, Rafah.

Israel has placed heavy restrictions on the freedom of civilian movement and controls the import of basic goods into the narrow coastal strip.

8:10 p.m. ET, October 7, 2023

BREAKING: Death toll rises to 300, Israeli official tells CNN

From CNN's Hadas Gold in Jerusalem 

People at a site in Tel Aviv, Israel, where a rocket launched from Gaza landed on October 7.
People at a site in Tel Aviv, Israel, where a rocket launched from Gaza landed on October 7. Itai Ron/Reuters

Following Saturday's surprise attacks from Hamas, the death toll in Israel rose to at least 300, an Israeli official told CNN early on Sunday morning. 

According to Israeli media, more than 1,500 others have been injured.

Fighting carried on throughout the day, and a fresh round of rocket attacks hit Tel Aviv and other areas on Saturday evening.

7:01 p.m. ET, October 7, 2023

"Too early" to say if Iran was directly involved in Israel attack - senior US official

From CNN's MJ Lee

The US cannot say whether Iran played a direct role in the attack on Israel, a senior administration official said Saturday, though the administration is planning to look into the matter.

It is “too early to say whether the state of Iran was directly involved,” the official said. “We’re going to be looking at them very closely.”

The official added that there is absolutely no question that Hamas is funded, equipped and armed by Iran, and emphasized that the US will continue to take actions to hold Iran accountable.

“Hamas is a terrorist group. Full stop,” the official said.

As for the billions of dollars that were unfrozen in exchange for American detainees earlier this year – which some of President Biden’s critics have incorrectly said was linked to the attack on Israel – the official reiterated that those funds will not be accessed by Iran, none of it has been spent so far, and in the future, can only be spent for humanitarian purposes.

7:04 p.m. ET, October 7, 2023

US could announce new assistance to Israel as soon as Sunday, but a dysfunctional Congress creates questions

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Evening light illuminates the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on September 30.
Evening light illuminates the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on September 30. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The US could announce new assistance to Israel as soon as Sunday, a US official said, as the Biden administration works to bolster its Middle East ally in the wake of Saturday's unprecedented attack by Hamas.

At the same time, the current dysfunction in Congress remains an open question for American officials as they work to provide Israel what it needs. Without a sitting House Speaker, administration officials are unclear about what can be accomplished. 

“It's actually something we were discussing today,” the official said. “Without a speaker of the House, that is a unique situation we're gonna have to work through.”

Top American and Israeli officials have been working throughout the day to identify where Washington can be of assistance as Israel prepares to respond to the attack, including at the Pentagon, State Department and the White House.

“We are in deep discussions with the Israelis about some of their particular needs as they respond to this,” a senior US administration official said Saturday.

The official said “we might have more to say about it as early as tomorrow.”

When Biden spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier Saturday, the President reinforced the US would provide Israel what it needed to defend itself, though not at a level of specificity to include particular weapons or hardware.

The official said the Israelis would likely be “looking closely” at what intelligence if any existed ahead of the attack.

But they said there was no “specific warning or indicator from another country” that would have predicted such an assault.

“In terms of the level of sophistication of what transpired overnight here, and what continues to transpire, that's a very different, a different issue, and I've not seen anything, support that,” the official said.

The US “always share(s) timely intelligence about threats in the region, with Israel and other partners,” the official said.

The official insisted it was “really premature to speculate” whether Saturday’s attack would scuttle attempts by the Biden administration to broker a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Still, the official said “terrorist groups like Hamas will not derail any such outcome.”

6:45 p.m. ET, October 7, 2023

Number of captured Israelis is "significant", IDF says, as Hamas warns hostages now spread across Gaza

From CNN's Shirin Zia Faqiri, Kareem Khadder and Mohammed Tawfeeq 

The number of Israeli nationals captured by Hamas is "unprecedented", the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have told CNN as the militant group said that the hostages its fighters had taken were being held across Gaza.

"It is unprecedented in our history that we have so many Israeli nationals in the hands of a terrorist organization," IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Saturday.  

“These are extremely disturbing scenes for any Israeli to see. I don’t even want to imagine what the fate of this Israeli person will be at the hands of these blood-thirsty animals."

"I can assure you that the IDF will be focused on getting each and every Israeli back”, Conricus said, adding that the number of civilians and soldiers captured by Hamas is an “unfortunately, a significant number.”

“These are numbers that we have never, ever seen before and these are, they’re unprecedented, and they will force an unprecedented response from Israel,” said Conricus.

In a statement Saturday, Hamas said the captured Israeli hostages are being held across the Gaza strip and warned against attacks in the area.

"Threatening Gaza and its people is a losing game and a broken record," Al Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Obaida said in a recorded audio message late on Saturday.

"What happens to the people of the Gaza Strip will happen to them and beware of miscalculation," Obaida added.

Some context: The Izzedine al Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, claimed earlier on Saturday to have captured "dozens" of Israelis during Saturday's surprise attack.

After the attack, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to "destroy" Hamas.

"We will forcefully avenge this dark day that they have forced on the State of Israel and its citizens," Netanyahu said in a televised speech late on Saturday. "I say to the residents of Gaza: Leave now because we will operate forcefully everywhere."

6:52 p.m. ET, October 7, 2023

Videos show how Gaza militants overtook an Israeli border base at daybreak

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

A still from a video released by Hamas shows militants advancing on an Israeli military base just outside of Nahal Oz, Israel, on October 7.
A still from a video released by Hamas shows militants advancing on an Israeli military base just outside of Nahal Oz, Israel, on October 7. Hamas

It took dozens of Gaza militants — armed with guns, grenades and bomb-dropping drones — to take control of an Israeli military base just outside of Nahal Oz, Israel, a CNN analysis of videos released by Hamas has found.

At least two Israeli soldiers were killed by the militants, and at least six female soldiers at the base were seen being taken prisoner in the videos.

The videos have all been geolocated and authenticated by CNN.

Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the densely populated Gaza Strip, heavily edited the videos to obscure the identity of their militants and to flaunt the success of their attack. 

The clips offer the first glimpse into how Hamas organized and executed its attack on Israel early Saturday morning.

How the ambush unfolded: It begins with armed men sneaking between two earthen berms near a gate along the Israel-Gaza border fence. They are then seen approaching and moving past a watchtower — the military base's large communication tower is seen in the distance. 

Once past, the militants — dozens of them, dressed in dark clothes — are seen moving across the open space toward the base. 

A second video, taken around the same time by a weaponized drone, appears to show the start of the ambush. Three Israeli troops standing near a van on the southern portion of the base are seen before the drone drops at least two bombs on them. One Israeli appears to be badly wounded as the troops take cover next to a nearby military vehicle.

The videos indicate that, although the militants were traveling from the north, they circled around the base and began the assault from the south. 

One of the videos shows militants throwing a grenade on top of a moving Israeli military vehicle just outside the base. 

It's unclear from the videos how many troops were stationed at the base, or if there were extensive firefights there. 

An additional video shows a number of individuals — some appear to be looting the base — on top of and around a few tanks on the property. At some point during the storming, something on the base caught fire, and a thick plume of black smoke appears. 

The Israeli Defense Forces confirmed earlier on Saturday that fighting was taking place in Nahal Oz.

6:13 p.m. ET, October 7, 2023

Israel extends "special security situation" across entire territory 

From CNN's Lauren Izso and Jonny Hallam

Israel's Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant is pictured during a visit with his Greek counterpart in Athens on May 4, 2023.
Israel's Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant is pictured during a visit with his Greek counterpart in Athens on May 4, 2023. Menelaos Myrillas/SOOC/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

Israel's Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant expanded the country's "special security situation" to the entirety of Israel's territory late Saturday, according to his communications office.

This enables the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to provide security instructions to civilians and to close public sites as needed for security, the minister's office said.

A “special security situation” area, within an 80-kilometer (48-mile) radius of the Gaza Strip, had been established earlier on Saturday.

Today we saw the face of evil. The Hamas (terrorist organization) has launched a brutal attack against the citizens of the State of Israel - attacking men, women, children, and the elderly, indiscriminately," Gallant said in a statement.

"Hamas will understand very quickly that it has made a mistake - a grave mistake and will pay a (heavy) price," he said.

Latest attacks: The defense minister's statement comes after Gaza militants fired a fresh round of rockets on Saturday evening, making direct hits on multiple locations inside Israel, including in Tel Aviv, according to Israeli authorities.

In a Telegram post, the armed wing of Hamas — the militant group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, and Israel — said it had fired an additional 150 rockets in response to the bombing of a residential tower in Gaza City.

A vow of change: In his statement, Gallant claimed he had been close to destroying Hamas 15 years ago, when he headed the military's Southern Command, but that he was stopped by "the political echelon."

"This phenomenon will not continue. We will change reality on the ground in Gaza for the next 50 years," he continued. "What was before will be no more. We will operate at full force."

"I ask Israel's citizens to remain determined and to support our security forces,” he added.