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Hamas attack on Israeli techno festival leaves at least 260 dead and many missing

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

It's Day 4 of a Middle East war. Israelis have been evacuated from the areas that Hamas infiltrated this weekend while heavy rocket fire from Gaza continues. In Gaza, Israel's airstrikes have sent about 200,000 Palestinians fleeing their homes, seeking shelter. Authorities have reported the deaths of a thousand people in Israel and more than 900 in Gaza. Amid all these developments, one event at the start of this weekend is continuing to shock Israelis. A techno music festival became the scene of the deadliest single attack on civilians in Israeli history. NPR's Daniel Estrin has pieced together how it unfolded. A warning that the details are disturbing.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: The festival was called the Supernova Universo Parallelo Festival, the Parallel Universe Festival...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ESTRIN: ...An outdoor trance music festival advertised as, quote, "the essence of unity and love in a breathtaking location." It was only about a couple miles from Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ESTRIN: This TikTok video shows dancers under festival tents dancing in T-shirts and tank tops when something strange starts descending from the sky - Hamas militants flying in from Gaza on paragliders. They also drove across the border on pickup trucks.

(CROSSTALK)

ESTRIN: Another video shows throngs of Israelis in a dusty field fleeing on foot, in cars. I met one survivor at a hospital, Roee Shalev.

ROEE SHALEV: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: He said 50 gunmen on five pickup trucks surrounded them as they ran. He and his girlfriend hid under a truck. The gunmen found them and shot them. He didn't know if his girlfriend would make it. I checked in with him again today, three days after the attack.

SHALEV: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: He said he just got word she and their friend didn't survive. He said, I'm left alone to tell their story.

SHALEV: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: An emergency rescue service in Israel says at least 260 Israelis' bodies were recovered at the festival. Some Israelis have been taken back to Gaza as prisoners. Shelly Shem Tov's 21-year-old son, Omer, had sent her a live location to track him on his phone.

SHELLY SHEM TOV: We see that Omer is getting inside Gaza, and then we didn't see any more. Nothing from him.

ESTRIN: Until Hamas published a video. The face was blurred, but she recognized his yellow shirt and patterned pants and arm tattoo. Her son's hands were bound behind his back, but he didn't look injured.

SHEM TOV: One of his friends sent us a video that Omer is in a car. They are taking him I don't know where. And it was hell. I was so shocked to see him like that, and I don't know where he is. I don't know what they are doing to him. And I don't have nothing to do.

ESTRIN: Israel's army says this is not the time to unpack how this disaster could have happened on its heavily surveilled border. It's appointed a retired general to coordinate efforts to release the hostages. Army representatives visited Shelly Shem Tov to notify her her son is in Gaza. They didn't say much else. I've spoken to several other parents whose children were at the festival. I asked them what Israel should do. One father, Meir Zohar, pointed his finger at the government.

MEIR ZOHAR: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: He said Bibi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and other leaders should resign. They should be ashamed, he said. There was an insane failure here. He said, like many Israelis do, that Gaza should be wiped out. Another parent, Ahuva Maizel, told me she doesn't seek revenge.

AHUVA MAIZEL: Everybody should quit - want revenge, you know? To revenge - us and them. Something has to happen. Something different has to happen between these two people. Revenge wouldn't bring my daughter back.

ESTRIN: The concert massacre has also touched Bono.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BONO: Those beautiful kids at that music festival.

ESTRIN: This weekend, he performed his song "Pride" with new lyrics commemorating, quote, "stars of David."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BONO: Stars of David, they took your life, but they could not take your pride. (Singing) Could not take your pride, could not take your pride, could not take your...

ESTRIN: Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Be'er Sheva, Israel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
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