Journalists taken by the Israeli military to a village they have retaken in their battle to beat back a sweeping assault launched by Hamas from the Gaza Strip paint a chilling picture of its destruction.
On the road approaching the rural village, the bodies of militants were said to be laying scattered between the shells of burned-out cars. Walls and doors of what used to be neatly kept homes were blasted wide open, and bags holding the bodies of dead residents awaited identification.
“You see the babies, the mothers, the fathers in their bedrooms and how the terrorists killed,” Major General Itai Veruv, a 39-year veteran of the Israeli army who led forces that reclaimed the village from militants, said on Tuesday as he stood amid the wreckage.
The Israeli military led a group of journalists, including an Associated Press reporter, on a tour of the village on Tuesday, a day after retaking it from what they said was a group of about 70 Hamas fighters.
Kfar Azza, surrounded by farms and just a few minutes down a country road from the heavily fortified fence Israel erected around Gaza, was one of more than 20 towns and villages attacked by Palestinian fighters early on Saturday.
Before the attack, the kibbutz, whose name means “Gaza village” in English, was a modestly prosperous place with a school, a synagogue and a population of more than 700.
Outside, unexploded hand grenades were scattered on the ground. A few minutes away, a Hamas flag lay crumpled in the dirt near a paraglider, used by militants to attack by air.
By the time journalists were escorted into the town on Tuesday, rescuers had already removed the bodies of most of the villagers killed in the attack.
An AP reporter saw the bodies of about 20 militants.
Maj Gen Veruv, retired from the military for eight years before he was recalled on Saturday, said the scene was unlike anything he had ever witnessed, even in a country where violent clashes with Hamas and other militant groups were frequent.
A military spokesman, Major Doron Spielman, agreed, comparing the toll in Kfar Azza and nearby villages he visited to scenes he witnessed as a New Yorker after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks.
“I remember going through 9/11 and waking up the next day, the next week, and everything had changed,” he said. “It’s the same thing again. But worse because we’re such a small country.”