Residents of Israeli town stunned by Hamas onslaught

A plume of smoke rises above buildings in Gaza City during an Israeli air strike, on October 8, 2023. Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP

A plume of smoke rises above buildings in Gaza City during an Israeli air strike, on October 8, 2023. Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP

Published Oct 8, 2023


Sderot, Israel — “Every second we thought that we were going to die,” Ortal Dadya said after emerging from the safe room of her home where she hid when Hamas fighters stormed Sderot.

The stunned 39-year-old Israeli mother described Saturday's violence in the town near the Gaza Strip as "something that I never, never saw" in the past.

Bloodstains and bullet casings still covered the streets on Sunday, a day after the surprise attack by the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave.

Residents of Sderot were left reeling from the unprecedented assault by the militants.

The smell of burned metal still hung in the air around the scorched police station, with smoke rising from the ruins of the building a day after it was stormed.

Sderot was one of many Israeli communities targeted by Palestinian gunmen, who breached the Gaza border under cover of thousands of rockets fired into Israel from the territory.

As Israel declared war in response and retaliated with repeated air strikes on densely populated Gaza, each side has reported hundreds killed.

The residents of Sderot remain fearful.

"I want to go out from Sderot, but I'm afraid, my kids don't want to go out," Dadya told AFP, standing in a stairwell after spending more than a day in an apartment safe room.

Israeli officials have not yet said how many of the approximately 600 people the government has said were killed in the attack died in Sderot.

Health officials in Gaza have reported 370 fatalities in the territory, with the tally on both sides expected to rise.

Signs of violence still litter Sderot, with flies swarming around blood-soaked clothes and emergency medical supplies scattered outside the police station.

Some Israelis peered cautiously out of apartment windows on Sunday, as one resident tried to sweep up some of the debris and glass.

Daniel Machluf, who was visiting the town when the attack took place, said friends of his had been killed or wounded.

'Systems have failed'

"Rockets started and we just sat and waited until it ended. After that, all the sound of the bullets and the guns came from outside," said the 24-year-old.

"We just hope that everything's going to finish now," he added.

But as he spoke, the deep thud of explosions could be heard repeatedly in the direction of Gaza, from where several plumes of black smoke rose.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned of a "long and difficult war" after the Hamas attack, vowing no "respite" until victory.

Although people living near the border have become accustomed to air raid sirens in recent years, Israeli casualties in previous wars fought against Gaza-based militants have been far lower than Palestinian tolls.

Yaakov Shoshani, 70, said he armed himself with a kitchen knife and a screwdriver when he learned that gunmen had entered Sderot.

"All the systems have failed here — everything related to intelligence, military intelligence, civilian intelligence, everything related to the sensors and the (Gaza) fence, everything has failed," he told AFP.

The Palestinian militants did not just target members of the security forces in the town, they also shot civilians.

Bullet-ridden cars are strewn across Sderot, with many vehicles abandoned after crashing into bollards or trees.

One resident held up a white motorcycle helmet which was covered in blood and had bullet holes.

Israeli forces have boosted their presence in Sderot, with hundreds of troops patrolling amid rumours that some militants could still be in the area.

On the roads around the town on Sunday, dozens of tanks and other military vehicles were being driven towards the Gaza frontier.

Shoshani, standing on a Sderot street, said he believed that officials must be held responsible for the calamity that hit the town on Saturday.

"People should stand trial for every mess they made," he said.