Hospital in southern city of Ashkelon has become a gathering point for survivors of Hamas’s attacksWith 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.