Hospital in southern city of Ashkelon has become a gathering point for survivors of Hamas’s attacks
Israel puts horrors of Hamas attack on display
Featured VideoThis video contains disturbing images | As the Israeli military showed the atrocities of the surprise attack by Hamas, many in southern Israel searched for safety — anxious about more violence.
With the noise of thunderous missile attacks from both Hamas and Israel's military filling the air, the emergency department at the Barzilai Medical Centre in Ashkelon feels like a sanctuary.
The southern Israeli city is less than 15 kilometres from the Gaza Strip.
Hamas's continuous rocket attacks have transformed the community of 150,000 people into the front lines of a war zone. Most streets are deserted, people are shuttered inside their homes and every day there are new impact craters in residential neighbourhoods from incoming rocket strikes.
The booms of outgoing Israeli missile and artillery launches are continuous. They are occasionally punctuated by Israeli sirens as the country's Iron Dome anti-missile system tracks an incoming rocket from Gaza and responds by shooting defences into the air.
The entrance to the hospital, underneath a huge, bombproof concrete canopy, has become one of the few places people say they feel safe enough to congregate and share their experiences in the four-day-old war has already claimed at least 1,830 lives.
Israel has seen gun battles in the streets of its own towns for the first time in decades and neighbourhoods in Gaza have been reduced to rubble.
Raz Cohen, 24, was at the hospital visiting two friends who were shot when Hamas militants stormed the Supernova music festival early Saturday morning.
He barely survived himself. He told CBC News he needed to talk to people about what he experienced, hoping by expressing his sorrow and anger he can help deal with the post-traumatic stress he believes may be inevitable.
"It was something like 200 people that ran away in the open area — and they shot at all of us," he said. "I saw people get shot in the head, in the leg, in the shoulder. They died before my eyes."
'Welcome to hell'
Cohen, who's from Ashkelon, said he only arrived at the festival three hours before the attack. Initially, he and his friends tried to hide under a stage, but says when they were discovered by the gunmen carrying machine guns, they ran for their lives.
He said he survived by hiding in a forested area on the edge of the venue, and by lying motionless for six hours until Israeli soldiers arrived.
The death count from the massacre at the festival is estimated at 260, but based on the carnage he witnessed, Cohen said he believes it may be much higher.
Young music festival attendees flee as Hamas gunmen attack
Featured VideoThousands attending an all-night dance party in Israel's Negev desert fled on the weekend as Hamas militants attacked, killing at least 260 people.
Living with the threat of attacks is part of life in Ashkelon, he said. But the immensity and brutality of the massacre makes this different, Cohen added.
"We have forgiven them (Hamas) for many problems. But this is not a problem we can forgive them for. We need to attack and attack strongly," he said.
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Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tomer Aaronson has treated many of the several thousand Israelis who have been injured since Saturday morning. He told CBC News he never imagined he would witness some of the horrors that he's seen.
"Welcome to hell. I have never seen such brutality," he told CBC News, pausing before he continued. "Entire families were butchered in their homes. Family after family after family. It's insane."
With the flow of gunshot victims now slowing, Aaronson said he's having more time to reflect on what he's been through.
"It's hard to grasp. I told people that we're going to have a national post-traumatic stress syndrome. This is going to take decades (to get past)."
Gaza braces for more suffering after decades of conflict
Featured VideoAs Israel intensifies airstrikes in Gaza, there’s growing speculation that a ground invasion could be coming. CBC’s Ellen Mauro breaks down how years of conflict in the densely populated, impoverished enclave led to this point.
He said his home in Ashkelon already feels very different from what it was before Saturday morning. The noise of the attacks are louder, closer and the violence feels more intense and personal, he said. At the same time, he told CBC News he has empathy for many people living in Gaza who will pay a heavy price for the actions of Hamas.
"I can't imagine what's going on over there. I'm horrified for them. I don't know what is going to happen next."
Authorities in Gaza say Israel's unprecedented bombing of the enclave has killed more approximately 830 people and wounded more than 2,700. People on the ground in Gaza have told Western journalists the Israeli response is the most ferocious air assault they have ever witnessed.
Hamas has continued to fire thousands of rockets at targets in Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. On Tuesday, Hamas armed wing spokesman Abu Ubaida told residents of Ashkelon to leave the area by 5 p.m. (1400 GMT), without giving any further details.
While travelling through Ashkelon, CBC News had to pull over and dive for cover after the Iron Dome sirens sounded. A few seconds later a Hamas missile, or part of one, landed a few hundred metres away.
At the hospital, CBC News met 57-year-old Osnat Yofan Shriki, who was admitted just a few hours earlier after a similar Hamas rocket impacted just a few metres from her apartment building.
She said the blast blew a door on top of her and left her unconscious with a concussion and possible broken bones. She's anxious about an upcoming surgery Wednesday morning.
Shriki said she had reconciled herself to thinking Israelis and Gazans would continue to be neighbours, walled off from each other, never interacting and having nothing to do with each other. But now, she says Israel's military needs to attack the enclave to ensure the people who planned and organized Saturday's massacres are killed.
"I think we have to get Gaza," she said. "It wasn't soldiers (they killed). It was civilians — people like us. Mothers and children."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Brown is a foreign correspondent based in the CBC’s London bureau. Previously in Moscow, Chris has a passion for great stories and has travelled all over Canada and the world to find them.
With files from Reuters
Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca