TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — A grisly montage of video and photographs of Hamas’s massacre of hundreds of civilians across southern Israel last week highlights the savagery of the attack and the ease with which the militant group appeared to operate inside Israel.
The footage that the Israeli military showed foreign correspondents Monday included a photo of a burnt baby. It showed gunmen shooting the dead bodies of civilians in cars, militants in the process of beheading a body with a hoe, burnt corpses thrown in a dumpster.
The briefing with reporters came as Israel cut off vital supplies to the Gaza Strip and pounded the territory with airstrikes. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers massed outside the territory ready to invade in response to the Hamas assault in which more than 1,400 people were killed.
In Gaza, meanwhile, the death toll rose to more than 2,700 people, many of them civilians, according to health authorities there. On Monday, an Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, accused Hamas of using civilians as shields in order to sway world opinion.
In past fighting, Israel has come under heavy international criticism for causing large numbers of civilian deaths. The release of the video showing some of the victims of the Hamas attack appeared to be an effort to counter the criticism and keep the world’s attention focused on the deaths of Israeli civilians.
“This is not just a war against Israel, it’s a war against humanity,” Hagari said.
The military has described horrific atrocities committed by Hamas militants against towns, small farming communities and a music festival near the Gaza border. But it has previously released just a few snippets of video to back the claims.
The latest footage was an unceasing display of horrors. Some of it came from Hamas body cameras and videos posted by Hamas militants to social media and later verified by Israel. Some was taken by civilians as they tried to escape, some by first responders.
It showed bodies of people who had been bound. A room with at least seven bodies reduced to ash. Civilians shot in bedrooms, bathrooms, front yards. Blood so thick it nearly obscured hallway floors.
It also showed the ease with which Hamas militants moved around inside Israel. In Kibbutz Be’eri, people slept as the militants peered into people’s dark living rooms. They toyed with outdoor decorations, using a cigarette lighter to set a dreamcatcher hanging on someone’s window ablaze. They shot randomly, at an air conditioner, at an ambulance’s tires, at a dog running out to greet them. They perched on lawn chairs outside a quiet home, taking a water break. Israeli security forces were nowhere to be found.
Israel’s rescue service later found more than 120 bodies there.
“The scale of the operation, the coordination, surprised us,” Hagari said. “We have reinforcements at the Gaza border, but this wasn’t just a terrorist attack. This was a sovereign operation. That is why they succeeded.”
The militants were well prepared. The videos showed some dressed in army fatigues to look like Israeli soldiers. Others were dressed like police officers. They carried zip ties to tie victim’s hands before they killed them and to bind hostages in the backs of trucks. They coordinated with one another on radios.
Dozens of militants in trucks whooped and celebrated on Israeli roads as bodies and cars burned around them.
Hagari said Israel has detained some of the militants and is interrogating them to find out how the attack was coordinated.
Israel’s defense and intelligence establishment has come under criticism for failing to prevent or repel the attack, which was planned in plain sight. Border communities were left on their own for hours.
In videos from civilians’ phones, partygoers cried as they ran for safety across the open fields where they had just been dancing at the open-air Tribe of Nova music festival. A young man filmed the shelter where he and at least 10 others took cover. Bloodied people writhed and moaned on the ground as others stood around them, looks of terror in their eyes. Militants could be heard yelling outside.
In more body camera footage, the militants easily broke into a military base, killing soldiers at the front desk before grabbing their assault rifles. A group of young female soldiers cowered as a militant entered the room and began shooting. In other clips, militants on motorcycles pulled bodies out of cars, emptying their pockets and grabbing their cellphones before moving on.
They pulled young civilians, bloodied and stupefied, into the beds of trucks by their hair. As they sped back to Gaza, the gleeful militants flashed peace signs to the camera. The Israeli military said militants were holding at least 199 civilians hostage in Gaza.
In Gaza, the militants filmed themselves pulling a dead soldier’s body from a car. Young men cheered and stomped on it. A young woman whose face was marred was pulled from a car trunk by her hair, pushed into the backseat and then driven off as a crowd ran alongside.