More than 100 bodies have been found in the Israeli kibbutz Be’eri, as details gradually emerge of the horror that unfolded as Palestinian Hamas militants launched their deadly surprise attack.
Be’eri, a self-sustaining farming community of 1,000 residents near Gaza, was one of first places targeted by militants who breached the border early Saturday morning, and among the hardest hit.
Heavily armed militants arrived in Be’eri on motorbikes around 7 a.m., just half an hour after they breached the typically high-tech, tightly guarded border wall between Gaza and Israel, videos show.
Terrified residents told Israel’s Channel 12 television station that assailants went door to door, trying to break into their homes.
Traditionally agrarian, the kibbutzim (plural for kibbutz) were popular in the country’s early years, founded on ideals of communal living and agriculture. About 125,000 people live on them today, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, and there are approximately 250 kibbutzim across Israel.
The IDF acknowledged on Monday that Be’eri was “very badly hit.”
“We thought we would need more rooms (to house the evacuees). We didn’t need all the rooms,” said IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht.
The attack on Be’eri came around the same time as Hamas militants descended upon a music festival, known as Nova, just three miles south, shooting revelers at point-blank range and looting their belongings.
More than 260 bodies were later found at the festival site, with many attendees believed to have been captured and brought to Gaza, sparking a desperate search by family members and foreign governments.
A number of other towns and settlements close to the Gaza border were also targeted in the first wave of Hamas’ assault, including Ofakim, Sderot, Yad Mordechai, Kfar Aza, Yated and Kissufim.
Israeli authorities estimate as many as 1,000 Hamas militants breached the border from Gaza, with the death toll rising over the weekend as Israel went on the offensive and bombarded the densely populated territory with airstrikes.
So far, at least 900 people have died in Israel and thousands are wounded, officials say. Gaza’s Health Ministry said Monday that its death toll has reached 687 people, including 140 children – a number expected to rise as Israel cuts off supplies of electricity, food, water and fuel to the Palestinian enclave.
Hamas’ unprecedented attack has also raised questions about the apparent failure of the Israeli military and intelligence apparatus – which the IDF has so far continued to dodge, claiming Israel is focusing first on the fight. “We’ll talk about what happened intelligence-wise after,” Hecht said on Saturday.