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‘They came to murder’: kibbutz shattered by Hamas attack

The sound of distant air strikes, mortar fire and shelling echoed through kibbutz Nir Oz as Ron Bahat surveyed the damage at his devastated community near the border with Gaza. An estimated 25 percent of the kibbutz’s 400 residents were either killed, kidnapped or went missing in the dawn attack by Hamas militants on October 7, which targeted Israeli communities and military posts. Bahat, 57, said the final death toll remains hard to ascertain, with bodies still being discovered and others waiting to be identified. He points to one home, where a day earlier the bodies of a woman and her grandson were recovered. “There was a lot of blood, they were in the shelter room,” he said. “They came to murder. They came to take life,” he said of the Hamas militants. At least 1,400 people were killed, most of them civilians, who were shot, mutilated or burnt to death on the first day of the raid, Israeli officials say. Israel says around 1,500 Hamas fighters were killed in clashes before its army regained control of the area under attack. Bahat managed to survive along with his family by keeping the safe room in his home barricaded for more than eight hours, despite repeated attempts by militants to break down the door. In other homes, militants used grenades to break in, he said. Before the shock assault, Nir Oz had been “one of the best places to live”. AFP went to the kibbutz as part of an official trip organised by the Israeli military in one of the first media visits to the community. – ‘I shot him’ – Nearly two weeks on, the signs of the onslaught are still fresh. Laundry still hangs on washing lines and children’s bikes lie in gardens alongside the burnt remains of homes. Kibbutz security chief Shachar Butler was one of the few to return, in part to bury one of his close friends on Thursday afternoon. “It’s unimaginable,” said the 40-year-old. Recalling the attack, Butler said he saw more than a dozen gunmen cross his yard after an alarm alerted residents. The militants sprayed the area with gunfire and lobbed grenades at his home, he said. “Anytime someone tried to touch my window, I shot him,” he said. “The people who came out got kidnapped, killed, executed, slaughtered.” Butler estimated as many as 200 militants attacked the kibbutz, entering from three sides before going house-to-house. After the survivors were evacuated, Israeli troops took up positions within the kibbutz which lies barely three kilometres (1.8 miles) from Gaza. More than 3,785 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed across the Gaza Strip in relentless Israeli bombardments in retaliation for the attacks by the Palestinian militant group, according to the latest toll from the Hamas health ministry in Gaza. The bombardment has targeted Hamas but has also hit schools, hospitals, residential buildings and UN facilities, the local authorities say. With Israeli forces gearing up to stage a ground invasion, Butler said it was hard to see how peace could ever come to the region. “We walked the fields, we worked the fields… always hoping that maybe one day there was going to be (a) peaceful (solution),” he told reporters. But that now seemed impossible, with the situation turned on its head, “180 degrees” in the other direction, he said.

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