Cars are on fire after they were hit by rockets from the Gaza Strip in Ashkelon, Israel, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. PHOTO COURTESY OF X.COM

Tel Aviv, Israel (AP) — The head of Israeli military intelligence resigned on Monday because of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, becoming the first senior figure to step down over his role in the stunning failure to anticipate or quickly respond to the deadliest assault in Israel’s history.

Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva’s decision could set the stage for more resignations among top Israeli security officials. Hamas militants blasted through Israel’s border defenses on Oct. 7, rampaging through communities unchallenged for hours and killing 1,200 people, most of them civilians, while taking roughly 250 hostages into Gaza.

The attack set off the war against Hamas in Gaza, now in its seventh month.

“The intelligence directorate under my command did not live up to the task we were entrusted with. I carry that black day with me ever since, day after day, night after night. I will carry the horrible pain of the war with me forever,” Haliva wrote in his resignation letter, which was provided by the military.

Haliva said he would remain in his position until a replacement is found. He said he had intended to resign immediately after Oct. 7, but stayed on through the initial part of the war and was resigning as the army’s internal investigations gather pace.

His announcement came at the start of Passover, a major Jewish holiday, and as military operations in Gaza have slowed in recent weeks ahead of a possible offensive on the southern city of Rafah.

The timing of any resignations by security and military officials has been complicated by the ongoing war in Gaza and battles with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah along Israel’s northern border. Tensions with Iran are also at a high following attacks between the two enemies.

Some military experts have said resignations at a time when Israel is engaged on multiple fronts is irresponsible and could be interpreted as a sign of weakness.

Shortly after the attack, Haliva and others had publicly said that they shouldered blame for not preventing the Oct. 7 assault.

Other leaders have stopped short, most notably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has said he will answer tough questions about his role but has not outright acknowledged direct responsibility for allowing the attack to unfold.

He has also refused to step down, even as a growing protest movement demands early elections.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid welcomed Haliva’s resignation, saying it was “justified and dignified.”

“It would be appropriate for Prime Minister Netanyahu to do the same,” he wrote on the social media platform X.

The Hamas attack, which came on a Jewish holiday, caught Israel and its vaunted security establishment entirely off guard. Israelis’ sense of faith in their military — seen by most Jews as one of the country’s most trustworthy institutions — was shattered in the face of Hamas’ onslaught. The resignation could help restore some of that trust.

The resignation came as Jews around the world prepared to celebrate Passover, a weeklong holiday that begins Monday evening and marks the biblical exodus of Jews from slavery in Egypt. With roughly 130 people still held captive in Gaza, Passover is certain to take on a more somber hue this year: for many Israelis, it’s hard to fathom a celebration of freedom when dozens of people are still being held hostage.

“As we gather around the Seder table to commemorate and celebrate our journey from slavery to freedom, our hearts are heavy with the plight of the 133 Israelis who remain in captivity,” Netanyahu wrote on X. “Our resolve remains unyielding to see all hostages back with their families.”

Hundreds of Israelis, including families of the hostages, held a protest Seder, or Passover feast, outside Netanyahu’s private home in the coastal city of Caesarea. They blame his government for failing to return the hostages.

Hamas’ attack set off the devastating war that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the local health ministry. The ministry’s count doesn’t distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, but it says at least two-thirds of the dead are children and women.

The fighting has devastated Gaza’s two largest cities and driven 80% of the population to flee to other parts of the besieged coastal enclave. The war has sparked a humanitarian crisis that has drawn warnings of imminent famine.

On Monday, Hezbollah fired dozens of rockets into northern Israel, drawing retaliatory strikes. The Israeli military said 35 projectiles were launched at one of its bases, without causing any casualties. It said it struck the sources of the rocket fire.

Hezbollah said its attack was in response to recent Israeli strikes on towns and villages in southern Lebanon.

The two sides have traded fire on a near-daily basis along the border since the start of the war in Gaza.

Also on Monday, Israeli police said that a car had slammed into pedestrians in Jerusalem, wounding three lightly. Security camera video showed two men exiting the car with a rifle before fleeing the scene. Police later said they arrested the two men.