A full company of Israeli soldiers took western journalists to the Kfar Aza kibbutz near Gaza yesterday to see for themselves what happened there on Saturday, when Hamas fighters arrived on a mission to kill.
Israel is determined that the full story of the atrocities carried out by Hamas in a string of small towns in the south of the country is not obscured as coverage of the expanding conflict moves elsewhere. Four days after the attacks, their impact and toll are only starting to become clear.
Kfar Aza. “Tell the world what you saw here,” one Israeli soldier shouted at reporters. They saw the bodies of dozens of unarmed civilians including babies and small children being brought out of houses or placed in body bags where they lay. Some had been shot in their sleep; some mutilated, according to David Ben Zion, an army officer. Also in plain view: the bodies of fighters killed after killing. Israeli sources estimated 70 were involved in the attack on Kfar Aza, whose burnt ruins lie 3 kilometres from Gaza.
Survivors said they were woken by the sound of rockets at 6.30am. An hour later messages on their phones told them to retreat to safe rooms if they had them.
- Reports say it took the army 12 hours to reach Kfar Aza.
- Avidor Schwartzman, a survivor, told Reuters he and his wife and daughter were barricaded into their house for 21 hours before being rescued, emerging into a scene of “pure hell”.
By yesterday more than 100 residents of Kfar Aza were confirmed dead but army sources expected the toll to rise. Similar stories were unfolding in Sderot to the north and Kibbutz Be’eri and Nir Oz to the south.
Halfway to Nir Oz, the site of the Supernova music festival is now a war-crimes scene after the massacre there that turns out to have been one of many. The question they pose for Israel’s legendary armed forces – where were they? – hangs in the air like smoke. More than 1,200 Israelis are now said to have been killed since Saturday.
Gaza. None of Hamas’s main targets was more than a few minutes by motorbike or paraglider from the border. Reports on Monday that the attacks were approved by Iran in Beirut have not been confirmed, and it’s now clear their final details were known only to a handful of Hamas planners, chief among them Mohammed Deif.
Hamas’s military commander is
- a survivor of seven Israeli assassination attempts;
- a widower (his wife, son and daughter were killed in an Israeli airstrike in 2014);
- Israel’s most wanted man; and
- thought still to be at large, in a wheelchair, in the network of tunnels beneath Gaza City from which the attacks were launched.
A statement issued by Hamas claims Deif spent two years planning the attacks. A recorded statement by Deif himself says they were in response to an “orgy of occupation” of Palestinian lands by Israel, with western support and “international silence”.
The weight of that occupation will grow if Israel launches a ground invasion of Gaza as expected. Meanwhile an estimated 900 Palestinians have been killed in retaliatory strikes. Israel has imposed a full blockade on Gaza, whose main generator has less than 12 hours of fuel left.
Washington. Joe Biden denounced the Hamas attack last night as “sheer evil”. Speaking to the American people after his third call since Saturday with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he said civilians killed by Hamas, including at least 14 Americans, had been “slaughtered”, “butchered”, “slain” and “massacred”.
- Biden confirmed that US citizens were among the hostages taken by Hamas, which he compared to Islamic State.
- US military aid promised to Israel since Saturday includes ammunition and interceptors to replenish the Iron Dome missile shield. One carrier strike group is already in the region; US military planners said another could be there within two weeks.
- Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, is travelling to Israel in a show of US solidarity.
- Jake Sullivan, America’s national security adviser, said the US, Egypt and Israel were discussing the possibility of a safe passage for civilians from Gaza.
Deep and dark. Without mentioning Iran or Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah by name, Biden also warned other countries and proxy actors not to open another front in the conflict. “To any country, any organisation, anyone thinking of taking advantage of this situation, I have one word: Don’t. Don’t,” he said. “Our hearts may be broken, but our resolve is clear.”
Sullivan said the US did not have evidence that Iran played a specific role in the 7 October attacks, but said Iran had a “sustained, deep and dark role” in its longstanding backing for Hamas. All sides, for now, have an interest in preventing a wider regional war. The truth about the extent of Iran’s involvement may take a long time to emerge.
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