Since the start of the Hamas incursion into southern Israel over the weekend, I have been moving between different areas trying to document the extent of what is taking place. As a photojournalist who has covered all of Israel’s attacks on Gaza from the Israeli side since 2009, I do not recall a situation on the ground like this. Chaos pervades everything, making it exceedingly challenging to access different places and events. In many cases, it appears that things are completely out of control. Here is what I saw.
Saturday morning: Ashkelon
After heavy rocket fire was launched from Gaza at Ashkelon in the first hours of the attack, the situation in the city was total chaos. There were not enough fire and rescue services, and those that were at the scene had to prioritize between larger and smaller operations. In many locations, residents had to evacuate casualties and put out fires by themselves. Vehicles and buildings were on fire for several hours, and the city was shrouded in smoke.
Saturday noon: Sderot
Entering Sderot on Saturday at noon was difficult, as the city was blocked from all directions. Here, too, there was a feeling of complete chaos and lack of control. Bodies of civilians killed by Hamas militants were strewn all over the road, and for almost half a day rescue services were unable to evacuate them. Next to a minibus that was standing near a bus station lay about eight or nine bodies of civilians who were heading out on a trip. We have spared our readers the most distressing photos.
Exchanges of fire continued around the police station on Saturday afternoon, and nearby we saw the unimaginable sight of two Hamas vans transporting men armed with machine guns. As in Ashkelon, there were not enough forces, not enough rescue services, residents were hiding in houses without protection, and there were dire scenes in the streets — scenes that we’ve become accustomed to seeing recently out of Ukraine.
Saturday afternoon: Between Sderot and Netivot
On the road between Sderot and Netivot there were vehicles that had been hit by gunfire and bodies of people killed, as well as Palestinian vehicles and militants who remained in the area. Some of the dead were people who had managed to escape from the massacre at the festival on Kibbutz Re’im but were later caught and murdered.
At one point, while we (a group of around 10 journalists) were documenting the scene, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on us from the direction of one of the kibbutzim. We remained on the ground until military forces arrived. Here, too, we have spared readers the most distressing photos from the scene, where items of clothing and camping equipment belonging to people who had returned from the party could be seen all over the ground.
Sunday morning: On the roads near Sderot and between Ashkelon and Zikim
On Sunday morning, large numbers of Israeli forces began arriving down south. In general, it can be said that when you see tanks traveling on the main road and not on carriers it is a sign of an emergency situation, because there is no time to transport them in an orderly manner.
A police checkpoint was set up on Highway 4, between Ashkelon and Zikim. On the side of the road was at least one prisoner whose eyes were covered with police tape, lying in his underwear in a ditch on the side of the road while police officers guarded him.
Sunday noon: Sderot
It took until Sunday morning for Israeli forces to take back control of Sderot police station from Palestinian militants who had barricaded themselves inside overnight; the eventual recapture of the facility involved the destruction of part of the building using bulldozers. On Sunday afternoon, bomb squads and soldiers were still searching the building and removed the bodies of militants and their weapons.
Sunday afternoon: South of Sderot
On the roads in the south, not only could you see the scattered bodies of Palestinian militants but also the equipment with which they had crossed the fence — abandoned armored personnel carriers, motorcycles, and more — testifying to their early preparation.
Monday morning and afternoon: Ashkelon, Sderot, and an open area in the south.
In Old Ashkelon, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, a resident said that they do not have a shelter. They’re trying to get building permits and have not yet obtained them, and that some of the shelters in the area are far away. The neighborhood has already suffered quite a few missile attacks from Hamas in previous rounds.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces are seen hiding from shelling in Sderot, and soldiers in tanks in an open area are preparing to drive toward the Gaza border.
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.
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