Children found ‘butchered’ in Israeli kibbutz, IDF says, as horror of Hamas’ attacks near border begins to emerge

Bodies of Israeli residents and Hamas attackers lay outside burned-out homes in the Israeli kibbutz Kfar Aza on Tuesday, days after the Palestinian militant group launched a large-scale surprise assault on Israel.

Hamas sent waves of heavily armed fighters pouring across the border from Gaza and rampaging through rural communities – Israel said it found 1,500 bodies of militants in the aftermath of the assault.

Houses in Kfar Aza were ransacked and set ablaze. Overturned mattresses, destroyed furniture, broken trinkets and unexploded grenades lay strewn across the grounds, along with bodies – a window into the scale of devastation wrought by Hamas in this area.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my career, never in 40 years of service this something I never imagined,” Maj. Gen. Itai Veruv told CNN on Tuesday, just a few hours after Israeli troops secured the kibbutz from Hamas assailants.

In Kfar Aza, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was going house to house, collecting the dead in body bags and loading them onto a truck. The IDF told CNN that women, children, toddlers and elderly were “brutally butchered in an ISIS way of action.”

Hamas has denied that its militants beheaded children or attacked women. The militant group’s spokesman and senior official Izzat al-Risheq on Wednesday described the accusation as “fabricated and baseless allegations.”

Kfar Aza is one of the several kibbutzim, small farming enclaves, that bore the brunt of Hamas’ ground assault on Saturday. A number of kibbutzim and towns were targeted, including Kfar Aza, Be’eri, Ofakim, Sderot, Yad Mordechai, Yated, Kissufim and Urim. Revelers at a music festival held in the desert outside of Be’eri were also gunned down and taken hostage.

At least 1,200 people have died in Israel since the conflict erupted, IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said in an update on Wednesday.

Israel has retaliated by pounding Gaza with a relentless aerial campaign that has flattened homes, schools, medical institutions and government buildings in the besieged strip.

The death toll in Gaza has risen to 1,055, with a further 5,184 people injured, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

‘Massacre’ in Kfar Aza

The kibbutzim go back to the time of the founding of Israel, when small groups of people set up communities based on the idea of communal living. About 125,000 people live across approximately 250 kibbutzim in Israel, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel. For many, they were symbols of good life and safety.

What happened at the weekend destroyed that idyll.

Babies and toddlers were found “decapitated” in Kfar Aza, Tal Heinrich, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Wednesday. CNN could not independently verify that report, and Hamas said media reports about attacking children were false.

This comes after the IDF told CNN Tuesday that the killings at Kfar Aza amounted to a “massacre.”

Maj. Gen. Veruv said his soldiers spent “about 48 hours” fighting “waves and waves of terrorists” on roads and in neighboring communities. He said he had started fighting militants in the Yakhini moshav (community) on Saturday, moving then “from battle to battle,” on the road to Sderot, before reaaching the Be’eri kibbutz on Monday evening.

“I saw hundreds of terrorists in full armor, full gear, with all the equipment and all the ability to make a massacre, go from apartment to apartment, from room to room and kill babies, mothers, fathers in their bedrooms,” Veruv said.

A covered body is seen lying on the ground in Kfar Aza.  - Muhammad Darwish/CNN
A covered body is seen lying on the ground in Kfar Aza. - Muhammad Darwish/CNN

Veruv said he had been retired from the IDF for eight years before rushing to join the counter-offensive efforts on Saturday morning, but nothing could have prepared him for what he saw.

“I have heard during my childhood about the pogroms in Europe, the Holocaust, of course. All my family came from Europe, they are survivors. But I never thought I would see…things like that,” he said about the scene in Kfar Aza.


More than 100 bodies were found in Be’eri on Monday. Civilians were killed and taken hostage in the kibbutz, which is home to about 1,000 residents, according to Israeli authorities and videos obtained and authenticated by CNN.

Heavily armed militants arrived in Be’eri on motorbikes around 7 a.m., just half an hour after they breached the typically high-tech, tightly guarded border fence between Gaza and Israel, videos show.

A screenshot from a video, geolocated by CNN, shows six Hamas militants arriving at Be'eri on Saturday morning local time. - Obtained by CNN
A screenshot from a video, geolocated by CNN, shows six Hamas militants arriving at Be'eri on Saturday morning local time. - Obtained by CNN

A bloodbath followed.

Footage shows militants pulling three bodies out of a car, before stealing the vehicle and driving north. The video, which first surfaced on Telegram, was taken by a surveillance camera in Be’eri. CNN has geolocated the video to an intersection in the northeastern part of the kibbutz.

Another video shows armed militants taking five Israeli civilians captive, with the bodies of four later seen lying on the ground nearby in another video verified by CNN.

Terrified residents told Israel’s Channel 12 television station that assailants went door to door, trying to break into their homes.

Of at least 107 bodies discovered in the aftermath, most were of local residents of the kibbutz, though some were of Israeli security forces, a search and rescue spokesperson told CNN.

The IDF acknowledged on Monday that Be’eri was “very badly hit.”

“We thought we would need more rooms (to house the evacuees). We didn’t need all the rooms,” said IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht.

The attack on Be’eri came around the same time as Hamas militants descended upon a music festival, known as Nova, just three miles south, shooting revelers at point-blank range and looting their belongings.

More than 260 bodies were later found at the festival site, with many attendees believed to have been captured and brought to Gaza, sparking a desperate search by family members and foreign governments.


In Urim, a kibbutz 10 miles south of Be’eri, residents awoke at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday to the sound of sirens and rushed to above-ground bomb shelters. The routine reaction to incoming rocket fire soon became more concerning, as the sirens continued sounding throughout the morning and they went in and out of hiding.

Members of the community, which is not far from where militants rampaged the Nova music festival, began to see reports of Hamas attacks on kibbutzim and towns near the border.

Wayne Lucas, a Virginia native who serves as a “lone soldier” in the IDF and lives in Urim, said that he spoke to several friends “who were hiding in their houses from the terrorists,” and, as the day progressed, he heard of attacks closer to home.

“We learned that someone from our kibbutz who I know very well, whose family also hosts lone soldiers was shot at the junction outside our kibbutz near the gas station. Luckily, he was only shot in the hand,” he told CNN.

There are over 7,000 lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF, according to the Lone Soldier Center, many new immigrants or volunteers from Jewish communities abroad.

On Sunday, after a restless night, residents in Urim heard gunshots close by.

“Shortly after 1:30 in the afternoon, we heard gunshots coming from inside the kibbutz. We all dropped everything. We ran as fast as we could to the shelters. We locked the doors, and we were barricading ourselves inside. People had knives and random things to use as weapons,” Lucas said.

All Israeli buildings erected after 1993 are required to have bomb shelters – reinforced rooms with concrete walls and heavy steel doors. But these safe rooms are designed to withstand a rocket attack, not an armed incursion. The doors are heavy, but they don’t have locks – they are not supposed to be lockable, for safety reasons.

Another soldier who lives in Urim said he heard gunfire but couldn’t make it to the shelter in time. “I heard a round of six bullets being shot right outside my room. I cannot tell you how scared I was. I didn’t know what I needed to do first: hide, lock my door, find a weapon, run to the nearest shelter?” the soldier, who asked not to be named, told CNN. “There was nowhere good to hide, and I ended up hiding in my closet.”

The soldier and Lucas said that when they were given the all-clear, an Israeli army unit was outside and had apprehended several militants who had tried to storm the kibbutz.


In Nirim, which lies less than a mile from the border with Gaza, residents had spent Friday – the day before the Hamas attack – celebrating the anniversary of the kibbutz’s founding. Guy, a 33-year-old painter, said he could not believe the horrors that began the next morning.

When he heard the alarm at 6.30 a.m., he did not think much of it. “Usually, it stops and starts after a few minutes then we get on with life,” he told a CNN team on the ground. But this time was different: The alarm did not stop, and rumors began to swirl. “Rumors started in the kibbutz that someone saw a terrorist in a car and heard Arabic,” he said. “It didn’t seem possible. We didn’t think it was happening.”

He had been waiting in the shelter with his wife, Tamar, and her mother. Tamar’s sisters had come to the kibbutz for Friday’s celebration, along with their husbands and three young children, who had stayed the night in another house in the kibbutz.

Although most houses in the kibbutz have shelters, they are designed to protect civilians from rockets – not armed intruders. “It’s impossible to lock from the inside. No one imagined there will be terrorists inside the kibbutz,” Guy said. He spent the next several hours holding the door “with my hand, with a knife in my pocket.”

“I was reading online: How can I fight with a knife?” he said. He had grabbed the only weapon he could find in his kitchen: “I could make a salad but I don’t think I could win against a gun.”

As he guarded the door, they heard gunshots and began to smell smoke. “Their strategy was to burn houses, to start fires so… people go outside,” he said. “Then they wanted to kill them or kidnap them.

“Finally, the military came at 7 p.m., something like that,” he said. Initially, they refused to open the door: They had been messaging others over WhatsApp all day, and had heard rumors “that the terrorists were also knocking on the door and saying they were military.”

He said his wife knew many people who had died. “They just slaughtered everyone. They killed kids, babies, grandmothers.”

Guy said everyone in the kibbutz was asking: “Where was our military?”

CNN’s Muhammad Darwish and Nic Robertson reported from Kfar Aza, Israel. Amir Tal reported from Jerusalem, Artemis Moshtaghian from New York and Ivana Kottasová from Tel Aviv. Christian Edwards wrote from London.

CNN’s Martin Goillandeau, Paul P. Murphy, Gianluca Mezzofiore, Kathleen Magramo and Ruba Alhenawi contributed reporting.

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