More than 100 bodies were discovered in one Kibbutz alone, according to the NGO Zaka.
For 15 hours, Inbal Reich Alon was locked in a shelter while Hamas gunmen killed and kidnapped dozens of Israelis around her home, just outside the Gaza Strip.
This 58-year-old woman remembers hearing explosions on Saturday morning.
Reich Alon initially thought the noise was “a storm”, not the large-scale Hamas offensive that killed more than a thousand people. But she soon realised that her small, close-knit community was under attack.
She and her family took refuge in a safe room in their house, originally designed to protect residents from rocket fire.
The building was set on fire by the attackers. “We had no idea what was going on”, she says, adding that she could hear screams in Arabic. For hours, her husband and children “didn’t let go” of the door handle of the shelter, which does not lock, as is customary in this type of structure.
She was able to escape and is now staying in a hotel on the shores of the Dead Sea along with around 150 other residents of the Beeri kibbutz in southern Israel.
But others were not as lucky. In her kibbutz alone, “more than 100” people were killed, said the spokesperson for the NGO Zaka, who participated in the identification of bodies.
“There were very many, more than 100” dead, said spokesperson Moti Bukjin. The Hamas men “shot everyone, they murdered children, babies, elderly people, everyone in cold blood,” he added.
The deaths were part of a multi-front assault by Hamas militants on Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip last Saturday.
Hamas gunmen rolled into as many as 22 locations outside the Gaza Strip, including towns and other communities as far as 24 kilometres from the border.
The Israeli military said more than 1,000 people have died in Israel since Saturday’s incursion. More than 150 people were kidnapped by Hamas. In Gaza and the West Bank, 830 people have been killed, according to authorities.
‘They shot children, babies, old people, anyone’
In the Kfar Aza kibbutz, the bodies of Israeli citizens and Hamas fighters are still lying next to the burnt-out remains of homes – as soldiers just recently started the collection effort.
One resident described the harrowing events on Saturday: “[The militants] came into every home, into every room, every place.
“They would burn their house with them inside so they would die,” he said.
“They shot children, babies, old people, anyone. No one was safe from it. The first victim was a 90-year-old woman who was sitting on her porch. She saw them coming and she got shot.”
Another resident described hours spent hiding from the gunmen: “We were in this panic room for I think about over 30 hours. Then they broke windows and started shooting everywhere. I think at some point they shot at the door of the panic room.”
Israel said it had largely secured the Gaza border and was evacuating nearby towns where the bodies of 1,500 Hamas militants had been recovered by Tuesday.