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Hamas claim number of Israelis it has taken hostage ‘several times greater’ than the dozens reported

The total number of hostages captured by Palestinian militants in the surprise attack on Israel is “several times greater” than the dozens reported, Hamas revealed last night.

A spokesman for the group said soldiers and officers taken captive were spread throughout all areas of the Gaza strip.

Hamas fired thousands of rockets on Saturday, sending dozens of gunmen across the border, killing up to 250 people.

A spokesman for the group’s military wing said the soldiers — including some officers — were captured during the infiltration into southern Israel. Abu Obedia said they were being held in “safe places” and militant tunnels.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Israel was “at war” and called for a mass mobilisation of army reserves.

Israeli media, citing rescue service officials, said at least 250 people were killed and 1,500 wounded, making Saturday’s early morning the deadliest attack in Israel in decades. At least 232 people in the Gaza Strip have been killed and at least 1,700 wounded in Israeli strikes, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Hamas fighters took an unknown number of civilians and soldiers captive into Gaza, a deeply sensitive issue for Israel, in harrowing scenes posted on social media videos.

Among those killed in Israel was Lt. Col. Jonathan Steinberg, a senior officer who commanded the military’s Nahal Brigade, a prominent infantry unit.

Mr Netanyahu said the Israeli military will use all of its strength to destroy Hamas’ capabilities. He also vowed to extract a heavy price if “even a single hair” is harmed on the Israeli hostages in Hamas captivity.

Israel has maintained a blockade over Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007. The bitter enemies have fought four wars since then.

The Prime Minister has said he was “shocked” by the attack and the UK backed the nation’s right to defend itself.

Rishi Sunak said in a statement shared on social media: “I am shocked by this morning’s attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli citizens.

President Joe Biden said the United States will always have Israel’s back. Speaking from the White House he added he had spoken to Mr Netanyahu about the “horrific and ongoing attacks”.

He said: “The United States unequivocally condemns this appalling assault against Israel by Hamas terrorists from Gaza, and I made clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu that we stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the government and people of Israel.

“Terrorism is never justified. Israel has a right to defend itself and its people. The United States warns against any other party hostile to Israel seeking advantage in this situation. My administration’s support for Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering.

“Jill and I are keeping in our prayers all of the families who have been hurt by this violence. We are heartbroken by the lives that have been tragically cut short and hope for a swift recovery for all those who have been wounded.

“My team and I are tracking this situation closely, and I will remain in close touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

UN 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.

Through his spokesman Stephane Dujarric, Guterres reiterated that “only through negotiation leading to a two-state solution can peace be achieved”.

The secretary-general said that “civilians must be respected and protected” at all times as required under international law, according to Dujarric.

The UN Security Council scheduled a closed emergency meeting on the Hamas attacks at 8pm (BST) on Sunday at the request of Malta and the United Arab Emirates, the Arab representative on the council.

Additional reporting by Reuters and AP

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