Israeli paramedic Hami Atias has seen much death and gore over 21 years of treating victims of violent attacks, natural disasters and war wounded. But the scene that greeted him at a leafy kibbutz near Gaza at the weekend will haunt him forever.
Atias was one of the first-responders who went into Beeri in southern Israel in the aftermath of a raid by Hamas, part of a wider assault that was the deadliest Palestinian militant attack in Israel’s history.
“I thought I’d seen enough but nothing could prepare me for what happened there. The smell of bodies – as many times as I’ve showered this week – I can’t get that smell out,” the 36-year-old Atias told Reuters on his way back from Beeri.
Atias said he saw the bodies of scores of men, women and children who had been gunned down or blown up by militants.
“There were bodies lying on the street in huge quantities, wounded people screaming for help, and we had to decide who to treat because we didn’t have enough manpower,” he said.
“It was disgusting.”
On the grass of the kibbutz on Wednesday evening, bodies in white body bags were laid out in rows.
Israeli media have reported that the militants killed at least 100 people in Beeri.
The Israeli military said it killed dozens of Hamas gunmen in the Beeri area.
The Hamas surprise attack on Saturday involved a rocket barrage and assaults by teams of gunmen on kibbutzes and towns in southern Israel surrounding the blockaded Gaza Strip, which the group controls.
The attack has sharply escalated violence between Israel and Palestinian militants.
Israel has bombed Gaza in response, amid reports of a potential ground assault against Hamas, killing more than 1,000 people, Palestinian officials say. Israel’s death toll from the Hamas attack has reached 1,200 with more than 2,700 wounded, the Israeli military says.
Beeri, an agricultural kibbutz three miles from Gaza which once hosted Gazan farm workers – and still supports the families it has had contact with – was one of the first towns hit by Hamas’s attack.
GUNFIGHTS AND HOSTAGES
Militants killed indiscriminately and kidnapped children and elderly people, witnesses and family members said.
“My son was kidnapped. He’ll be 16 years old in two weeks,” said Mir Shani, a 46-year-old physiotherapist from Beeri.
Militants stormed Shani’s ex-wife’s home, got into the shelter she and her children were hiding in, and took all males present – Shani’s son, the father of another family from the kibbutz and another boy, Shani said.
“They took them … into a black car and they drove away,” he said. “I believe he’s alive and hope he’s being treated well. I’m hopeful he’ll come back.”
Beeri resident Golan Abitbul said he got into a brief gunfight with militants.
“I saw a group trying to enter my front yard. I opened fire and they replied with a burst. I don’t know why but they decided to go away,” he said, speaking from a hotel near the Dead Sea where victims and families were still taking shelter.
“I hope we get all our friends back from Gaza,” he said, referring to the scores of Israelis Hamas has taken back into Gaza as hostages.
Hamas has threatened to execute hostages in retaliation for Israeli bombings.
Nahar Neta, a Beeri native who lives in central Israel, said he knew nothing of the fate of his mother, missing since the attack, but assumes she has been taken hostage.
Neta and his siblings were speaking to his mother on the phone trying to reassure her while militants stormed her home, and then got cut off.
“We haven’t heard anything from my mom or anything else regarding her whereabouts,” he said.
“Our conversation when the terrorists entered her home was the last contact we had.”