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Nuseirat, anatomy of Israel's massacre in Gaza

Original source (on modern site)

It was hailed as a great Israeli success. A bloody ambush that turned into a massacre of nearly 300 displaced people.

Suddenly, they were "descending into the depths of hell", Al Jazeera's Maram Humaid wrote on June 8.

An Israeli raid on the Nuseirat refugee camp, ostensibly to free four Israeli captives held there, reportedly resulted in the death of three more including one US citizen, according to the Qassam Brigades.

That is, besides the at least 274 Palestinians killed.

What happened in Nuseirat? How did Israel kill so many people? Here is a breakdown of the attack:

What happened?

The attack on Nuseirat was ostensibly to free four captives taken on October 7: Noa Argamani, 25, Almog Meir Jan, 21, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 40.

It began around 11am, with what witnesses say were several civilian trucks and cars entering a neighbourhood near the camp's market.

[Al Jazeera]

One was loaded with furniture to appear it was moving displaced people, while another had commercial brand markings. There were also what appeared to be civilian vehicles in the group.

To provide air cover, Israeli forces started bombing from above, hitting the busy market the hardest, likely to spread as much panic as possible, as well as inflict maximum casualties.

[Al Jazeera]

At a certain point, the convoy separated. Investigation revealed that some vehicles headed towards each of two locations where Israeli captives were held.

The three male captives were at one location, where Al Jazeera a witness account details how soldiers got to the house.

There, heavily armed soldiers jumped out and ran through a cluster of makeshift tents put up by displaced people.

The witness describes how everyone cowered in fear inside their flimsy shelters, little more than a piece of fabric between them and the armed soldiers.

[Al Jazeera]

The soldiers arrived at a garden wall, through which they punched a hole to approach a quiet apartment building from the back.

Al Jazeera has not been able to ascertain whether this was the only access to the building, which is surrounded by a garden on at least two sides and likely faces onto a road.

Noa Argamani was at another location, in a building facing a narrow, tree-lined street.

There, a truck pulled up, supported by soldiers shooting on sight, killing one person at the building's entrance. From footage Al Jazeera reviewed, there were no weapons near or on the killed individual.

A ladder was extended from the truck and soldiers clambered into an apartment through its balcony.

Reports Al Jazeera gathered indicate that Israeli soldiers were shooting people on sight in buildings as well as on the streets.

For land support, Israeli armoured vehicles moved in from the other side of Salah al-Din Road at the line between Nuseirat and Bureij camps.

Then, more Israeli soldiers landed in a helicopter on Gaza's shore, not far from the US-built pier.

[Al Jazeera]

Analysis indicates that these were to provide backup and to evacuate the captives, who headed there in the convoy of disguised trucks and civilian vehicles, taking the Nuseirat road.

The four jumped on the Israeli military helicopter and lifted off, leaving carnage behind as the bewildered people of Nuseirat tried to comprehend what had happened.

What did people do when this horror was over?

The wounded were taken to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir el-Balah, an already overwhelmed facility.

A widely shared video shows the few remaining medics in the hospital standing in the middle of countless people lying on the floor, in agony, bleeding and screaming.

The medic in the middle of the shot can no longer move because there are so many patients lying on every square inch of the tile floor.

It is not clear how they continued that day, triaged wounds, and decided who to allocate the nearly nonexistent hospital resources to.

*الإصابات تفترش ممرات مستشفى شهداء الأقصى بعد المجزرة التي ارتكبها جيش الاحتلال الإسرائيلي في مخيم النصيرات في ظل تدميره للقطاع الطبي في كل مناطق قطاع غزة* pic.twitter.com/HyFRmlfux2

— Tariq Jaber (@TariqJaber14041) June 8, 2024

Translation: In light of what the Israeli occupation army has done to decimate the Gaza healthcare sector, injured people cover the corridors of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital after the massacre that the Israeli occupation army committed in the Nusierat refugee camp.

Within the hour, as staff frantically tried to treat the overwhelming number of wounded, Israel's army ordered that it evacuate, despite it being in an area designated by Israel's military as a safe zone.

Wait… Israeli soldiers snuck in how?

Israeli forces were "perfidiously hiding in an aid truck", UN Special Rapporteur of the Occupied Palestinian Territories Francesca Albanese said. "This is 'humanitarian camouflage' at another level," she wrote on X. Israel has denied the accusation.

How many people were killed or wounded?

At least 274 people died in Saturday's massacre, including at least 64 children, and more than 700 were injured, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.

Among those Israel killed, according to the al-Qassam Brigades, are three Israeli captives, one of whom had US citizenship.

Israeli army spokesperson Daniel Hagari claimed on Saturday that only "dozens" of Palestinians had been killed in the attack, telling a briefing he "knew of less than 100" casualties, but "couldn't say" how many were civilians.

What happened after the massacre?

Argamani, Jan, Kozlov and Ziv were reunited with their families on Saturday after brief medical checks found they were in good health.

In Gaza, the hospital struggled to cope with the flow of wounded or dead bodies.

Civil defence were still finding dead or wounded Palestinians under the rubble, as air strikes continued across the enclave.

Nuseirat is even more densely populated as Israel's vicious war on Gaza kills hundreds daily and sends thousands fleeing, to places like Nuseirat.

Some 120 hostages, 40 or so of whom are dead, are believed to be in the maze of tunnels under Gaza.

How were so many people killed to rescue just four?

Witnesses describe a violent ambush, with indiscriminate shooting and air raids.

Camp resident Anas Alayyan said Israeli soldiers committed mass executions on the street.

"I went down to the street and found bodies everywhere," he told Al Jazeera.

[Al Jazeera]

What has the Israeli reaction been?

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said the attack showed "Israel does not surrender to terrorism". He and his far-right allies in government are pushing for military solutions to free the remaining captives in Gaza.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant called it "one of the most extraordinary operations" he had seen in his nearly 50 years in the military.

Commenting on the horrific number of displaced Palestinians killed and injured, Israel's Foreign Minister Israel Katz said: "Only Israel's enemies complained about the casualties of Hamas terrorists and their accomplices."

Before the attack, rumours circulated that Benny Gantz would soon resign from the war cabinet.

After the massacre, Netanyahu beseeched Gantz to stay on board, but it did not work.

Far-right figures in the Israeli government staunchly believe that military action, not negotiations or diplomacy, is the only way to deal with Gaza.

What about the international reaction?

Egypt and Jordan condemned the massacre.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said what happened in Nuseirat was a massacre.

Martin Griffiths, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, tweeted that Israeli forces left "shredded bodies on the ground".

Oxfam International called the massacre "unacceptable and unconscionable".

Some ignored the staggering death toll. US President Joe Biden only mentioned his "welcome [of] the rescue".

UK Foreign Minister David Cameron added: "My thoughts … with families of those still captive, and all the innocent lives affected by the conflict." Sweden and Poland expressed similar sentiments.

Some tried to address both issues.

Borrell also tweeted: "We share the relief" of the capitves' families and called for the remaining ones' release.

Oxfam International welcomed "the news that four hostages are back with their families".

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