Israel fights to regain control of border area as it bombs Gaza Strip

KFAR AZZA, Israel — Israel’s army was struggling Tuesday to regain control of its border with the Gaza Strip as fighting entered a fourth day after Hamas militants launched a wave of devastating attacks on communities in Israel.

At least 900 Israelis were killed in the cross-border assault, in which Hamas gunmen hunted civilians in their homes and cars, catching Israeli security forces off-guard. The onslaught sparked a major retaliatory bombing campaign in Gaza that has killed more than 750 people, Palestinian authorities said.

In a news conference Tuesday morning, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman, said the military has “more or less restored full control over the border fence,” echoing similar comments made by spokesmen the day before.

Israeli towns around the border area have been “secured,” Hecht said, but “there could still be people inside.” He referred to firefights between Israeli forces and Hamas fighters overnight in the towns of Sa’ad and Kissufim but said that “no one came in” from Gaza.

Outside Sderot, one of the largest towns near Gaza and the scene of some of the fiercest fighting, soldiers were still deploying to control areas considered under threat as rockets from Gaza arced overhead. Roads into the town were strewn with glass and abandoned vehicles.

In Kfar Azza, a village to the west that was the scene of some of the earliest and heaviest fighting, dead bodies lay everywhere. The stench of death was heavy, and the corpses of Hamas infiltrators who had attacked the village were scattered every few hundred yards. One of the paragliders they had used to cross the border lay abandoned near one house. The emergency lights on one of the group’s shattered pickup trucks was still blinking as the sounds of heavy machine gun fire and frequent explosions echoed from nearby.

Military escorts who accompanied a Washington Post reporter said they believed that the area had been cleared of Hamas fighters, but they did not rule out the possibility that holdouts might still be hiding there. They also warned that booby traps and bodies could still be found in the homes of returning residents. Morgue technicians wore masks and hazmat suits as they loaded the dead into a van.

Nearby, body bags containing slain civilians remained to be sorted.

The scale and brutality of the Hamas attack early Saturday left Israel reeling. Funerals have been held across the country. The shocked and devastated families of more than 100 hostages, whom Hamas militants claim to be holding in Gaza, have received no news of the fate of their loved ones.

A spokesman for the military wing of Hamas told Al Jazeera on Monday that the group would begin publicly executing a civilian hostage each time Gazan homes were hit by Israeli airstrikes “without prior warning.”

Israel had announced hours earlier that it was implementing a “full siege” of the densely populated Gaza Strip — “no electricity, no food, no fuel,” said Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — as part of a campaign that now aims to destroy Hamas’s military capabilities but is also likely to cause massive harm to the area’s residents in the process.

Over 2 million people live in the Gaza Strip, most of them civilians. Israel maintained a complete aerial and sea blockade of the area even before the latest crisis, allowing only a small flow of goods and people through land crossings, which have now been cut off. A full-scale siege of any civilian population is prohibited under international law.

At least 765 people have been killed in Gaza and 4,000 injured since the Israeli airstrikes began, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The United Nations says that more than 187,000 people have been displaced, and the number is expected to rise.

The IDF said Tuesday morning that its fighter jets struck more than 200 targets in Gaza overnight, mostly in Rimal and Khan Younis. Videos published on the army’s Facebook page showed explosions leveling buildings and thick smoke billowing across neighborhoods as residents piled the wounded into ambulances.

In a televised address Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel’s response was only just starting. “What we will do to our enemies in the coming days will reverberate with them for generations,” he said.

Netanyahu returned to office late last year as part of a new governing coalition, the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israel’s history. His new term has been defined by domestic turmoil and an increasingly parlous situation for Palestinian and Arab-Israeli citizens, as coalition lawmakers champion plans to weaken the country’s Supreme Court and expand unlawful settlements in Arab areas.

Since the new government took office in December, violence has surged in the West Bank, in particular, as Jewish settlers there have stepped up attacks against Palestinian residents and Israeli security forces carry out increasingly deadly raids targeting a new generation of Palestinian militants.

On Tuesday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk urged “all States with influence” to defuse the rapidly growing “powder keg.”

“We know how this plays out, time and time again — the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives and incalculable suffering inflicted on both communities,” said Türk.

But there were few indications that the conflict’s trajectory was not one of escalation, as footage of the atrocities committed Saturday by Hamas militants continued to emerge, recovered by authorities from surveillance and dash-cam videos in areas where the attacks were still reverberating.

New surveillance video obtained by The Washington Post shows two Hamas militants gaining access to Be’eri, a kibbutz in southern Israel where more than 100 bodies were later recovered, early Saturday by lying in wait and shooting at a car entering the small community in southern Israel.

Surveillance video released by South First Responders shows the moment militants entered Be’eri early Oct. 7. (Video: South First Responders)

The footage, recorded shortly after dawn, shows the camouflaged pair slowly approaching the closed gate from the northwest side.

One fighter gets on his knees and peers underneath the gate before walking across the road, where he breaks the glass of a security kiosk and climbs inside. Less than a minute later, a sedan with at least two people in the front seats pulls up to the entrance. As the gate begins to open, both fighters open fire on the passengers. The car rolls forward through the entrance as the two fighters run into the kibbutz, one knocking a camera that has been filming the incident.

Additional surveillance footage taken minutes later shows two fighters matching their appearance walking through a courtyard at the base. The footage was provided to The Post by the Telegram channel South First Responders, which has uploaded videos taken from southern Israel in recent days.

Other footage analyzed by The Post shows what appears to be four civilians detained by militants. The same individuals, identified by their physical appearance and clothing, were seen in a later video sprawled on the ground, apparently killed.

Loveluck reported from London and Oakford from Washington. Ellen Francis in London, Amar Nadhir in Bucharest and Meg Kelly in Washington contributed to this report.

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