Middle East Eye / October 7, 2023
Residents say they witnessed ‘the most difficult images imaginable’ as death toll in southern Israel reaches at least 250.
As Palestinian fighters seized control of Israeli communities near the besieged Gaza Strip, Israelis caught up in the assault spoke to local media about what they had witnessed.
By late on Saturday, fighting between Israeli soldiers and “hundreds” of Palestinian fighters was still ongoing at 22 locations inside southern Israel, according to an Israeli military spokesperson.
The spokesperson said there were two ongoing hostage situations in the communities of Bari and Ofakim.
At least 250 Israelis have been killed and at least 1,100 others injured, according to Israeli officials, after thousands of rockets were fired from Gaza and fighters stormed into Israel by land, air and sea early on Saturday.
A substantial number of captured Israeli soldiers and civilians were also being held hostage in Gaza, the army spokesperson said.
On Saturday evening, another barrage of rockets was launched from Gaza towards Tel Aviv.
Israel has responded with air strikes against Gaza. At least 232 people have been killed in the Palestinian enclave, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
In the kibbutz of Bari, about five kilometres from Gaza, a resident told Israel Hayom that people were begging for help as Palestinian fighters roamed through the area in the hours after breaking through the frontier.
“You see here the most difficult images imaginable. People are shouting that they are trying to open their doors, and also that their house is being burned at the same time, gunshots and terror everywhere,” the resident said.
An Israeli in another nearby kibbutz, Raim, said: “My children were wounded by gunfire from terrorists who were in a passing vehicle near the kibbutz. We were evacuated for medical treatment, and on the way we saw wounded and dead.”
Describing the kibbutz as “under siege”, the resident identified as Anna added: “The army has not yet arrived, and the emergency department is unable to cope. At any moment there are reports of terrorists seen in the fields. We have never seen anything like this.”
Many witnesses spoke of exasperation that the army was not present. Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was now at war, in several locations Israelis were waiting to see any military presence.
“The most important thing is to send forces to the scene,” Dvir Efrat, 21, told Israel Hayom from Bari. “Our emergency [medical] services are here, but only two 40-year-old women know what to do. We need to send forces: police, army. There is a base of bad guys nearby.”
A resident of Ofer told the newspaper: “The IDF [Israeli army] is not here, I am pregnant and with a baby and they are shooting at our house, at the window. They tried to break down our door. I don’t understand how the army isn’t here. I don’t understand where the IDF is.”
Hamas said it had captured at least 35 Israelis, both soldiers and civilians. It has released footage that appeared to show terrified captives bound in various locations, including Gaza.
Bari resident Ella told Channel 12 that she recognized her father in photographs of captives circulating on social media.
“I think he was kidnapped to the Gaza Strip,” Ella said, adding that she believed her father tried to stop the Palestinians from entering his home.
“He wrote to me saying that their home had been entered and they had been kidnapped and there was nothing I could do. I don’t know where my mother and grandmother are. I have no idea. No one answers.”
When Palestinian fighters stormed the fence separating Israel and Gaza, a rave was being held outside Raim nearby.
The fighters reportedly stormed the party, with video footage appearing to show revelers fleeing on foot through the desert.
Omar, who attended the party, told Haaretz: “Suddenly, shots started from all directions, and we saw people running towards us with weapons. People ran in every direction, got on any vehicle they saw and fled the scene. There are people hiding in the area. There were hundreds of people here.”
Omar said he hid on the side of a mountain until he heard shouts of “God is great” in Arabic close by.
“At that moment we all got into the car and fled, but the road was full of burnt-out vehicles and the terrorists started shooting at us. There are terrorists on the side of the road,” he said, adding that fighters carrying assault rifles were waiting for them.
“Some of them ran out of ammunition because they didn’t shoot at us but did shoot at others and the driver maneuvered between bullets. The situation there was difficult, it was a battlefield.”
Another person at the party told Haaretz: “I’m hiding here, there was a mess, they came from all directions, people went like sheep to the slaughter.”