The Israeli town that lies empty weeks after Hamas attack

Sderot was quickly evacuated when the Gaza war began on October 7

Israeli city of Sderot a ghost town as country prepares for invasion of Gaza

Israeli city of Sderot a ghost town as country prepares for invasion of Gaza
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More than three weeks after Hamas launched a bloody assault on the south of Israel, Sderot – a city that suffered so much on that day – remains virtually deserted.

Pensioners, some of them Holocaust survivors, were killed as Hamas stormed into the city from Gaza. Rockets pummelled Sderot. A police station was overrun by gunmen, with dozens of officers and civilians inside killed.

About 1,400 Israelis were killed in the Hamas attack. In Gaza, more than 8,000 Palestinians have died with thousands estimated to be trapped under rubble since Israel launched its offensive on the strip in retaliation.

A government official sitting in a bunker estimated that 90 per cent of residents have left their homes. They have either gone to stay with family and friends or in hotels around the country.

Their return date is still uncertain – it could be weeks, or months.

"This is our 9/11," the official said.

Visual reminders of the Hamas attack still abound. Some lampposts are dented or toppled, the result of cars smashing into them amid the rush to escape. Vehicles with their windows smashed remain abandoned. Police crime-scene tape flaps in the air.

The atmosphere in Sderot is eerie amid the sound of frequent explosions nearby.

Gaza remains under constant bombardment as Israeli ground operation expands

Gaza remains under constant bombardment as Israeli ground operation expands

Only small signs of life remain in the city, as most shops are shut.

An elderly woman trudges slowly through the streets pulling a shopping trolley. Another man calls on journalists to stand with Israel as his car speeds past.

The roads on the way to Sderot are busier than in previous weeks. Some civilian cars mingle with military vehicles and lorries carrying supplies for the Israeli forces massing around Gaza.

At a petrol station nearby, almost all the customers are military personnel.

These troops are part of a fresh ground incursion into the Gaza Strip. The government has vowed to eradicate Hamas but its heavy bombardment in highly populated areas has so far killed more than 8,000 Gazans, including about 3,000 children.

A short drive through the town brings you to higher ground where you can see the strip clearly. It is a terrible sight. The horizon is hazy with smoke but the unmistakable view of destroyed buildings can be seen all around, the obliterated Gaza city looming in the distance.

In recent days, Israel has been embarking on the next phase of the war, with tanks and soldiers entering the strip to start the long, complex and inevitably bloody campaign through Gaza's dense urban environment.

From this higher grounds a fighter jet and a drone are seen overhead.

A rattling sound can be heard. A security adviser with military experience suggests it is a helicopter firing missiles.

A single white shroud of smoke can be seen on the outskirts of Gaza, in contrast to many darker plumes.

Thuds from Israeli artillery are heard at least once every minute, often followed by corresponding bangs as the rounds hit. Some of the projectiles travel so far into the strip, their impact cannot be heard. Buildings, many with people inside, can absorb the thundering roar.

Internet and phone lines are severely limited in Gaza. For now, the media is relying heavily on images from vantage points such as these. They paint a devastating picture of destruction and the onslaught under way.

Updated: October 31, 2023, 3:49 AM