Amidst the deafening sound of missile strikes launched by both Hamas and the Israeli military, the emergency department at the Barzilai Medical Centre in Ashkelon provides a sense of refuge.
The city in southern Israel is situated at a distance of less than 15 kilometers from the Gaza Strip.
The ongoing rocket attacks by Hamas have turned the community, consisting of 150,000 individuals, into a battleground. The majority of streets are empty, with people confined to their homes. Additionally, residential areas regularly witness new impact craters caused by rockets hitting their targets.
The sounds of Israeli missile and artillery launches are ongoing without interruption. Sometimes, Israeli sirens break the rhythm as the Iron Dome defense system detects an incoming rocket from Gaza and counterattacks by launching defenses into the sky.
The hospital entrance, protected by a large, strong concrete structure, has become a rare gathering spot where people feel secure enough to come together and discuss their experiences in the ongoing war, which has already resulted in a minimum of 1,600 deaths.
For the first time in many years, Israel has witnessed gunfights taking place in its own towns, while areas in Gaza have been completely destroyed.
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 narrowly escaped with his life. In an interview with CBC News, he expressed the need to share his story in order to cope with the potential post-traumatic stress.
“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, a resident of Ashkelon, states that he reached the festival merely three hours prior to the assault. At first, he and his companions attempted to conceal themselves beneath a stage. However, upon being spotted by the armed attackers, they hastily fled in order to save their lives.
He claims to have managed to survive by concealing himself in a wooded section near the location and remaining completely still for a duration of six hours until Israeli soldiers showed up.
Cohen believes that the death toll from the festival massacre, estimated at 260, could potentially be significantly greater considering the level of destruction he observed.
Cohen stated that residing in Ashkelon involves accepting the constant possibility of attacks. However, he emphasized that the scale and savagery of the massacre distinguish it from usual occurrences.
“He stated that we have pardoned them (Hamas) for numerous issues. However, this particular matter is not something we can overlook and forgive. It is imperative that we launch a strong and decisive offensive.”
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Dr. Tomer Aaronson, an orthopaedic surgeon, has provided medical attention to numerous Israelis who have sustained injuries since Saturday morning. He expressed to CBC News his disbelief at the unimaginable horrors he has witnessed.
“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.”
Now that there are fewer gunshot victims, Aaronson states that he has more opportunities to ponder on his experiences.
“I find it difficult to comprehend. I informed individuals that we will experience a countrywide post-traumatic stress disorder. It will likely require several decades to overcome this.”
He states that his residence in Ashkelon has undergone significant changes since Saturday morning. The sound of the attacks has become louder and closer, intensifying the feeling of violence. Additionally, he expressed empathy towards innocent Gazans who will suffer consequences due to 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.”
The health authorities in Gaza have reported that over 500 individuals have lost their lives and more than 2,700 have been injured due to the extensive bombing by Israel. Witnesses in Gaza have informed Western journalists that the Israeli retaliation is the most intense air attack they have ever observed.
Hamas has continued to fire thousands of own 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.
During their journey in Ashkelon, CBC News was forced to stop and take shelter when the Iron Dome sirens went off. Shortly after, a Hamas missile, or a fragment of it, landed just a few hundred meters from their location.
CBC News interviewed Osnat Yofan Shriki, a 57-year-old individual who had been recently admitted to the hospital. She had been impacted by a Hamas rocket that landed only a few meters away from her apartment building.
She states that the explosion caused a door to fall on her, resulting in her losing consciousness and sustaining a concussion as well as potentially fracturing bones. She is feeling worried about an upcoming surgery scheduled for Wednesday morning.
Shriki expressed her acceptance of the fact that Israelis and Gazans would remain as separate neighbors, with no interaction or involvement with each other. However, she now believes that Israel’s military should launch an offensive on the Gaza Strip in order to eliminate those responsible for planning and carrying out the massacres that occurred on Saturday.
She expressed the belief that acquiring Gaza is necessary. She emphasized that the casualties were not soldiers, but rather civilians, individuals who are similar to us, including mothers and children.