Bodies of residents and militants lie in the grounds of ravaged Israeli kibbutz

By Maayan Lubell

KFAR AZA, Israel (Reuters) – Bodies of Israeli residents and Hamas militants lay in the grounds of the Kfar Aza kibbutz among burned out houses, strewn furniture and torched cars, as Israeli soldiers went from house to house to take away the dead.

Israeli Defence Forces took the foreign press through the site, one of the hardest hit areas when Hamas militants attacked Israel from the Gaza Strip, on Tuesday.

The stench of bodies was heavy in the air as reporters walked the paths of the kibbutz.

“You see the babies, the mothers, the fathers, in their bedrooms, in their protection rooms and how the terrorist kills them. It’s not a war, it’s not a battlefield. It’s a massacre, it’s a terror activity,” said Israeli Major General Itai Veruv.

“It is something that I never saw in my life. It’s something that we used to imagine from our grandfathers, grandmothers in the pogrom in Europe and other places. It’s not something that happens in new history.”

Outside one of the small houses of the kibbutz the body of a resident was covered by a purple sheet with a bare foot protruding. A pillow and other objects from the house lay scattered.

Elsewhere bodies of the gunmen lay face down on the ground. A destroyed gate at the perimeter of the kibbutz showed where the gunmen had entered.

The militants went on a rampage, killing hundreds of Israelis and taking dozens hostage in places like Kfar Aza, near Sderot. Some of the houses had been almost totally destroyed in the attack with collapsed, burned walls.

Israeli troops were going house to house to retrieve civilian bodies in body bags. They had not been able to take them before as they were still fighting gunmen and working through booby-traps.

One soldier shouted: “Tell the world what you saw here.”

Soldiers were still securing the paths of the kibbutz, which had single-storey houses with verandas, palm trees and banana plants, 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.

A military spokesperson said the death toll from the Hamas attacks had climbed to 900, mostly civilians gunned down in their homes, on the streets or at a dance party, dwarfing the scale of any past attack by Islamists apart from 9/11. Scores of Israelis were taken to Gaza as hostages, with some paraded through the streets.

At least 770 Gazans have since been killed in Israeli strikes, according to Gaza officials, while whole districts in Gaza have been flattened.

(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Nick Macfie)