The speed and lethality of the surprise attack stunned Israel

Many Israelis were asleep when it started. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath and also a holiday, meaning families planned to spend time together at home or in synagogue. But at dawn, the rockets marked the beginning of an attack unprecedented in its scale and coordination.
Israel has been strengthening the barrier to the tiny Palestinian enclave of Gaza for years. Within hours, the impenetrability of the barrier did not hold. BBC News analyzes footage from militants and civilians on the ground to reveal how Hamas coordinated the most sophisticated attack ever from Gaza.

Around 6:30 am local time, the rockets took off. The Islamist militant organization – which controls Gaza and is designated a terrorist group in several countries around the world – often uses this tactic.

The rudimentary rockets often fail to evade Israel’s advanced Iron Dome defense system, but thousands of rockets were fired in a short time. The scale of the attack suggests months of planning and stockpiling. Hamas says it fired 5,000 rockets in the first round, while Israel confirms half that number.

Air raid sirens began sounding as far away as Tel Aviv – 60 kilometers from Gaza – and west Jerusalem, and smoke could be seen over the cities as a result of direct hits. As rockets continued to be fired, the fighters gathered where they planned to break through the fortified barrier.

Although Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, it still controls its airspace, shared border and coastline. In addition to regular military patrols around the border – which in some places is a concrete wall and in others a fence – there is also a network of cameras and sensors to prevent intrusions. But within hours, the barrier was breached in several places.

Some Hamas fighters tried to bypass the barrier entirely. They flew over it with paragliders (unverified footage shows at least seven planes) and used boats. The Israel Defense Forces said they had repelled two attempts by Hamas to infiltrate Israel by landing boats on the beach.

But what sets this operation apart are several coordinated, direct attacks on border crossings. At 5:50 a.m. local time, a Telegram account linked to the armed wing of Hamas posted the first images from the country, taken at Kerem Shalom – the southernmost crossing to Gaza. Photos show militants crossing a checkpoint and the bloodied bodies of two Israeli soldiers on the ground.

Another photo shows at least five motorcycles, each with two militants armed with rifles, driving through a hole cut in a section of wire fencing. On the less guarded part of the border, a bulldozer was seen tearing down part of the fence with barbed wire. Dozens of seemingly unarmed people gathered there, and some began to walk through the gap.

In Erez – the northernmost part of Gaza, about 43.4 kilometers from Kerem Shalom – Hamas broke another crossing. The video was posted on one of Hamas’s propaganda channels. It shows the explosion of a concrete barrier, which served as the signal for the start of the attack, and then shows a militant waving to a group of fighters towards the site of the explosion.

Eight men in bulletproof vests and rifles run toward a well-fortified checkpoint and shoot at Israeli soldiers. Later, the bodies of Israeli soldiers are seen lying on the ground as the militants go from room to room clearing the compound, apparently organized and trained.

Gaza has seven official crossings – six controlled by Israel, one to Egypt controlled by Cairo. But within hours, Hamas found ways to enter Israeli territory along the entire barrier.

Hamas fighters left Gaza in all directions. Israeli officials claim they attacked 27 different locations, presumably with orders to kill everyone on sight. The furthest that Hamas penetrated was the town of Ofakim, located 22.5 kilometers east of Gaza.

In Sderot, militants were seen standing on the back of a pickup truck driving through the town about three kilometers east of Gaza. About a dozen armed fighters were seen moving through the empty streets of Ashkelon, north of the Erez Pass. Similar scenes were repeated across southern Israel, and the army told civilians to hide in their homes.

At a music festival near Reims, gunmen opened fire on a large group of young people who had gathered in the desert. An eyewitness told the BBC that the militants rode in a van loaded with weapons and spent three hours searching the area for other Israelis.

We now know that hostages taken at the festival and other locations were returned to Gaza. Israel said 100 soldiers and civilians were kidnapped. Footage from the town of Bari, confirmed by the BBC, shows four civilians being forcibly taken away by the militants.

In addition to targeting Israeli communities, Hamas also attacked two military sites: a base in Zikim and a base in Reim. A close-up shot from Reim shows the aftermath – several burnt-out cars scattered along the road to the base. It is not clear how many people have been killed during the fighting.

Hamas social media channels repeatedly shared images of dead Israeli soldiers. Hours after the rocket attack began, hundreds of Israelis were dead – and it happened in a way no one thought possible.

Aid began arriving in the affected region within hours, but Hamas controlled parts of the territory outside Gaza for a while. The speed and lethality of the surprise attack stunned Israel. Questions about how this could have happened will be asked for years. By mid-morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared: “We are at war.”