Dozens of bodies of Israeli civilians and Hamas fighters have been found among burned-out houses, scattered furniture and torched cars on the grounds of Kfar Aza in southern Israel, just off the fence with the besieged Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military took the foreign press through the site on Tuesday, as the soldiers went from house to house to take away the dead.
The stench of bodies was heavy in the air as reporters walked the paths of the kibbutz, a farming community of about 400 people located just 2km (about a mile) from Gaza which Israel has been bombarding relentlessly for days in retaliation for the worst attack on its territory in decades.
One soldier shouted: “Tell the world what you saw here.”
Reporting from Kfar Aza, Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford said there were “bodies all over the village”.
“Lots of civilians, many of [them] still in their homes in which they were killed,” he said, adding that the bodies of what looked to be Hamas fighters were also lying on the ground “bloated by the sun”.
“The Israeli military are saying that there are a lot of foreign workers they believe were also killed in this attack. Many of the homes are completely destroyed,” he said, as he described “utterly horrific” scenes.
“What is so shocking is that people’s lives, people’s belongings are spread out across their lawns. They have been blown out of their houses by the explosives.”
The military said it had not been able to remove the bodies before as they were still fighting gunmen and working through booby traps.
Soldiers were still securing the paths of the kibbutz as bursts of gunfire and explosions could be heard in the distance.
Jets could be heard above and smoke could be seen rising from Gaza. Sirens warned of incoming rockets intercepted overhead.
The area was one of the hardest hit when Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Saturday, sending thousands of rockets and fighters into Israel.
At Kfar Aza, the attackers rammed through the fence, possibly using an earthmover, clearing the way for dozens of other gunmen to enter through the breach, according to the Israeli army.
The Israeli military said the death toll from the Hamas attacks had climbed to 1,200 people, mostly civilians shot dead in their homes, on the streets or at a dance party. In the kibbutz of Kfar Aza alone, dozens of residents were killed, according to the Israeli forces.
Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza on Wednesday reached at least 950 Palestinians, including 260 children, as Israel continued hammering the besieged and densely populated coastal enclave, razing neighbourhood after neighbourhood.
According to the Gaza-based health ministry, some 5,000 people have also been wounded.
Residents of Kfar Aza were used to tensions and violence involving Palestinians, but chose to live close to the blockaded Gaza Strip.
Some believed they had to maintain an Israeli presence near the coastal enclave, even after Israel withdrew its troops from there in 2005, while others had made their homes there because it was cheaper than elsewhere in Israel.
Reporting on Wednesday, Stratford said the sentiments of locals in the area had changed over the past few days.
“It started with complete and utter shock, then it went to disgust and it is now increasingly going into anger,” he said. “Israelis have seen the pictures of elderly and young being kidnapped, and they’ve seen the bodies,” he added.
“Many that we are speaking to are vying for blood and revenge.”
Israel on Wednesday pledged to escalate its attacks, with Defence Minister Yoav Gallant telling soldiers near the fence that, “What was in Gaza will no longer be.”
“We started the offensive from the air, later on we will also come from the ground. We’ve been controlling the area since Day 2 and we are on the offensive. It will only intensify.”
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