Muscat – Oman has called on Palestine and Israel to exercise utmost restraint, stressing the importance of protecting civilians.
A statement issued by the Foreign Ministry said, ‘The Sultanate of Oman has been following with great concern the ongoing escalation between the Palestinian and Israeli sides as a result of continued illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the constant Israeli aggressions in Palestinian cities and villages, which portend serious repercussions and an escalation in intensity of violence’.
It further stated that Oman affirms that the international community and the parties backing efforts to resume the peace process must intervene immediately to stop the ongoing escalation and resort to the rules of international law.
Arab peace on the brink
Palestinian group Hamas launched a large-scale surprise attack against Israel on Saturday, firing thousands of rockets from Gaza and sending ground units, as Israel retaliated with air strikes.
At least 70 people were reported killed in Israel, while Gaza authorities released a death toll of 198 in the bloodiest escalation in the wider conflict since May 2021, with hundreds more wounded on both sides.
“We are at war,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the military launched a series of air strikes against targets of Iran-backed Hamas in the blockaded coastal enclave where black smoke billowed into the sky.
“The enemy will pay an unprecedented price,” the right-wing veteran Israeli premier vowed after Hamas launched its first such combined air, sea and ground offensive, half a century after the outbreak of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
The Islamist group started the surprise attack at around 6:30am (0330 GMT) with thousands of rockets aimed as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, some bypassing the Iron Dome defence system and hitting buildings.
Hamas fighters – travelling in vehicles, boats and even using motorised paragliders – breached Gaza’s security barrier and attacked nearby Israeli towns and military posts, sparking gun battles as panicked residents hid out in bunkers.
Bodies were seen lying on the streets of the town of Sderot near Gaza.
AFP journalists witnessed armed Palestinians gathered around an Israeli tank that was on fire, and others driving a seized Israeli Humvee into Gaza.
Gates of hell
Israeli army Maj Gen Ghasan Alyan warned Hamas had “opened the gates of hell” and would “pay for its deeds”.
The army said its forces were battling Palestinian fighters on the ground in several locations near the Gaza Strip, in an operation labelled ‘Swords of Iron’.
Hamas claimed to have captured several Israelis – raising the spectre of a far wider escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as international concern mounted. The group released a video showing its fighters holding three men dressed in civilian clothes who were labelled ‘enemy soldiers’ in the video caption.
The escalation follows months of rising bloodshed, mostly in the occupied West Bank, and tensions around Gaza’s border and at contested holy sites in Jerusalem.
Hamas labelled its attack Operation Al Aqsa Flood and called on “resistance fighters in the West Bank” as well as in “Arab and Islamic nations” to join the battle. “We decided to put an end to all the crimes of the occupation (Israel),” said its armed wing, the Ezzedine al Qassam Brigades, claiming to have fired more than 5,000 rockets.
Army spokesman Richard Hecht said Israel had counted at least 2,200 rockets aimed at its territory.