Israeli music festival: 260 bodies recovered from site where people fled in hail of bullets

For weeks, excited music-lovers had looked forward to the Supernova festival, held in the desert in southern Israel to coincide with the Jewish festival of Sukkot.

“The time has come when the whole family is about to get together again,” organisers wrote on social media before it began. “And what fun it is going to be!”

Just hours later, their social media pages are now flooded with desperate people trying to find loved ones, after Palestinian militants stormed the festival and opened fire as part of huge surprise attack on Israel.

More than 260 bodies have reportedly been recovered from the festival site, according to rescue agency Zaka, BBC reported.

One partygoer, called Ortel, said the first sign that something was wrong was when a siren went off at around dawn, warning of rockets. Eyewitnesses said the rockets were quickly followed by gunshots.

“They turned off the electricity and suddenly out of nowhere they [militants] come inside with gunfire, opening fire in every direction,” she told Israel’s Channel 12.

“Fifty terrorists arrived in vans, dressed in military uniforms,” she said.

People tried to flee the site, she said, running across the sand and getting into their cars to drive away – but partygoers said there were jeeps full of gunmen, shooting at the cars.

“They fired bursts, and we reached a point where everyone stopped their vehicles and started running. I went into a tree, a bush like this, and they just started spraying people. I saw masses of wounded people thrown around and I’m in a tree and trying to understand what’s going on.”

The festival site – with three stages, a camping area and bar and food area – was in the Negev desert, near Kibbutz Re’im. It is not far from the Gaza Strip, from where Hamas fighters crossed over at dawn to launch their attack. They infiltrated towns and villages, taking dozens of people hostage, according to BBC.

Festival-goer Adam Barel told Haaretz that everyone at the rave had been aware there was a chance of rocket fire in the area – but the gunfire was a shock.

Like many others, he tried to escape in his car – but gunmen were firing at them, so he got out and ran. “People were hit,” he said. “We hid. Everyone ran somewhere else.”

Esther Borochov told Reuters she was driving away when her vehicle was rammed into. She saw a young man driving another car, who told her to get in. She did – but the man was then shot at point blank. Esther said she played dead until she was finally rescued by Israeli military.

“I couldn’t move my legs,” she told Reuters from the hospital. “Soldiers came and took us away to the bushes.”

Many festival-goers – like Ortel – hid in nearby bushes and fruit orchards for hours, hoping for the military to arrive and rescue them.

“I put the phone on mute mode, and then I started crawling through an orange grove,” Ortel said. “Live fire was whistling above me.”

Gili Yoskovich told the BBC how she hid in a pomelo orchard. “They were going tree by tree and shooting. I saw people were dying all around. I was very quiet. I didn’t cry, I didn’t do anything.”

Eventually, after three hours, she heard some voices of Israeli soldiers, and decided to make a run to safety, BBC reported.

Another witness told Channel 12 it was “four-five hours of a horror movie… We ran like crazy, it was just crazy.”

“It was a massacre,” said Yaniv, an emergency medic who was called out to the party. He told public broadcaster Kan News: “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It was a planned ambush. As people came out of the emergency exits, squads of terrorists were waiting for them there and just started picking them off.

“There were 3,000 people at the event, so they probably knew it. They had intelligence information.”

Friends and family members of missing loved ones are now desperately hoping to find them.

Among those missing is British man Jake Marlowe, 26, who was working as a security guard at the music event, and German tourist, Shani Louk, whose mother believes she was kidnapped.

Another woman, 25-year-old Noa Argamani is believed to have been taken hostage at the festival, her family and friends say.

Noa’s friend, Amit Parpara, told the BBC he was messaging her as she hid.

“Around 8:30 was the last message that I got from her,” he said. Amit later saw a video on social media appearing to show her being taken captive. “[It shows] her on a motorcycle, being taken away from her boyfriend. You can see clearly her terror going into the Gaza Strip.”

The parents of 23-year-old American-Israeli Hersh Golberg-Polin are also looking for their son, who was there after celebrating his birthday. They told the Jerusalem Post they received two short messages from him on Saturday morning reading: “I love you” and “I’m sorry.”

At least 600 Israelis have been killed since the attack began, according to the latest figures in local media.

Fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian militants is continuing, and Israel has launched a wave of air strikes on Gaza. The strikes have killed at least 413 people, Palestinian officials say, according to BBC.

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