Dawn was flaring over Gaza as two men in Hamas garb rode south along Sofa Street on a motorbike.
The sky was clear. The road was empty. It was 6:40 a.m. They were on their way to kill Israelis.
They didn’t have far to go.
It was less than three kilometres to Sufa, the Israeli town they were attacking — one of 30 targeted that day.
“Go, go, go,” the gunman riding behind said to his partner, who wore a green Hamas headband.
The Hamas attack on Israel was the worst in a half-century, leaving 1,400 dead, provoking a fierce response in Gaza and putting the Middle East on the brink of war.
What happened on Oct. 7 will be analyzed for years to come, but through witness interviews and video, Global News has pieced together a detailed account of the attack on one community.
It shows how Operation Al-Aqsa Flood unfolded at Kibbutz Sufa and adds to the mounting evidence that contrary to official denials, Hamas targeted civilians.
One of the attackers’ body cameras recorded them firing into residential homes, setting a house on fire, looting, and even shooting a dog.
“Hell came to visit us,” said Zehava Handelman, who survived the assault on the kibbutz by hiding in her safe room with her two granddaughters.
But Sufa, home to about 50 families, was also a rare Israeli success amid the failures of what some are calling Black Saturday.
A secular kibbutz where residents said they felt no need to lock their doors, Sufa fought back when Hamas came, limiting the civilian loss of life.
By analyzing video filmed by a bodycam, CCTV and residents, Global News was able to track the movements of one attacker and his partner from Gaza to Sufa.
Their names are unknown, but both wore items identifying them with Hamas, which Canada calls a “radical Islamist-nationalist terrorist organization.”
On the morning of the attack, they set off in Gaza on a motorbike loaded with weapons — Kalashnikov rifles, ammunition clips and grenade launchers.
“Go straight, as you are,” the gunman riding behind said in Arabic, according to the bodycam video, first posted online by the Israeli group South First Responders.
He loaded the grenade launcher, balanced across the seat in front of him, and told his partner to hurry.
“Pothole, be careful,” he said.
At about 7 a.m., they reached the fortified border that enforces the armistice line established in 1950. (The official crossing post closed in 2008.)
Following a motorbike whose driver wore a Hamas headband and a gunman on foot, they passed through a gap in the coiled razor wire that was the first obstacle in the swath of border.
They arrived next at a low concrete barrier, but a car ramp had been laid on top of it, forming a crude overpass that they easily crossed.
Beyond that, a section of the fence had been removed. Fifty metres on, the high cement wall had already been pushed open.
Finally, they steered through a hole in the tall mesh fence and, without a shot being fired, came out onto the Israeli road that parallels the border.
“Calm down and go three kilometres,” the fighter riding on the back of the motorbike said to his partner up front.
They veered onto a tract leading straight to the community. “Go on, God bless you, you’re the man,” he said.
Months of planning went into the mission, according to experts. Hamas commanders had to draw up plans and amass enough weapons, ammunition and vehicles for an attack of such scale.
Fighters were given maps of the Israeli towns they would strike, and manuals describing the defences they would face. They carried plastic restraints for taking prisoners.
Training sites were built in Gaza, said Maj. Gen. Michael Edelstein of the Israel Defense Forces. “They were well-trained, well-equipped.”
A captured Hamas commander said under questioning that his mission was to attack the military post at Sufa, then move on to a nearby kibbutz, according to a video of his interrogation released Monday by Israel’s Shin Bet security service.
The women, children and elderly were to be taken prisoner, and the men killed, he said in the video. “It doesn’t matter, military men, civilian men,” said the commander, identified as Jihad Fauzi Mohammad Hamayda.
They carried a significant amount of ammunition and food, suggesting they were preparing for a long siege, said Amnon Sofrin, former head of the Mossad intelligence directorate.
“They planned on a big hit inside Israel.”
With a camera strapped to his head as he rode on the back of the motorbike, the attacker recorded himself as he and his partner came to Kibbutz Sufa.
Photos viewed by Global News show him in a green bulletproof vest with a patch on the front reading Al Qassam Brigades, the Hamas armed force.
Underneath, he wore a black t-shirt and gray pants. Knee pads were strapped on his legs, and he carried a Kalashnikov rifle and at least five ammunition clips.
“Shoot, shoot,” he shouted to the gunman on the motorbike in front, who opened fire on the houses across the fence in the kibbutz.
They slowed and stopped at an intersection where their associates were engaged in a gunfight with the Israeli military post at Sufa.
He jumped off the bike with his grenade launcher, yelling, “Get down get down get down,” fired at the Israelis and ran away.
He got back on the bike, and they came to the kibbutz entrance. He climbed over the security gate, and his colleagues told him to get it open.
“How?” he responded.
Once the gate was open, the video showed him shooting the tire of the kibbutz ambulance and killing a dog. He fired three bullets at the black lab.
“They just want to kill,” said the dog’s owner, Tomoriya Cohen, a teacher who moved to Sufa last year with her husband and kids.
Although rocket alerts are common in Sufa, established in 1982 and named after the sandstorms that blow across the Negev desert, she said it was a friendly community. “It’s a beautiful place to raise kids,” she said.
The gunman carried on to the back of a home with his rifle raised. Seeing someone inside, he fired twice through the door. A groan can be heard on his video.
The shots killed 57-year-old Bernard Cohen “in cold blood,” his son said in an interview. Lior Cohen said his father was born in Glasgow and moved to Israel at age 21.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. His father had lived in Sufa for 30 years, worked at a chemical factory and liked to scuba dive in the Gulf of Aqaba. “He was a good guy.”
The two Hamas gunmen walked past the playground and the kindergarten, looking like they were unsure what they were doing.
They reloaded, shot at a house and went inside. Finding a phone ringing on the table, they searched the rooms but found no one.
“Is there someone upstairs?” he said
Instead of checking, he stood at the bottom of the staircase and shot upwards.
“Is there anybody there?” he called out.
When nobody responded, he switched to Hebrew.
“Mother,” he called.
In the kitchen, his partner opened the fridge door and took out an orange drink, unaware the homeowner was hiding in his safe room with his partner.
Hilik Weinstein said he could hear them inside his house, walking around casually, helping themselves to the contents of his fridge.
It made him “really angry” that they thought they could just come to Sufa and do what they wanted. They even stole his watch and phone, he said.
When the two Hamas gunmen went outside, they seemed lost, one of them gesturing like he didn’t know what to do. He cupped his hands and called out.
“They are over here, come on here’s the Jeep,” he said, walking towards a grassy clearing.
“What is the smoke?”
“Maybe some tanks.”
They walked into a clearing, turning one way and then the other. A shot was fired, and the gunman with the body camera dropped.
“I bear witness that there is no God but God,” he said.
He was the first attacker Sufa residents killed that morning. His partner died shortly after, according to video viewed by Global News.
But dozens from Hamas were still on the attack, leaving the Israel Defense Forces surprised and overwhelmed.
Sufa was going to have to defend itself.
Yuval Balacasan was in the safe room of his house with his pregnant wife and son when he got a phone call telling him Hamas was inside the kibbutz.
Balacasan is a 31-year-old civil engineer who spent five years in the Israeli military. He is also the commander of the kibbutz security team.
Air alarms and explosions were not unusual in Sufa, but that morning, the blasts were coming “non-stop and very, very focused on Sufa,” he said.
Still wearing his weekend shorts, he put on his armoured vest and helmet and grabbed his M-16 and five ammunition clips.
He took his wife and son to his parent’s nearby home and saw them all into the shelter. His wife didn’t want him to go, but the army wasn’t coming and he was one of only four kibbutz residents with a rifle. The gunfire was very close. He had to defend the kibbutz.
Although the kibbutz had a security team, it had never actually trained together, Balacasan said. He had also never once fired his M-16, so he took a shot at a wall to check the aim.
Hearing Arabic, Balacasan and three other residents followed the voices until they found the Hamas fighters. There were about 30 of them, he said.
They were congregated inside the kibbutz, out in the orchard and on the fence trying to get in using stepladders. Their motorbikes, ATVs and trucks were lined up outside.
From behind a concrete wall, the Israelis opened fire. They kept shooting, trying to pin them down. One of the Israelis, Ido Hovra, was shot in the head.
The kibbutz medic brought Hovra to Zehava Handelman’s house and put him in the living room, trying to keep him alive, but he didn’t make it.
“I was his kindergarten teacher,” Handelman said in an interview.
Handelman was hiding in her safe room with her two granddaughters, ages 5 and 3, who were visiting for the Sukkoth holiday.
To distract them, she let them watch cartoons on a phone. Her husband got his pistol. Her daughter and son-in-law were there as well, waiting for the military to get there.
“We felt like we were abandoned,” she said. “Where is the army?”
Bullets and grenades were flying everywhere, Balacasan said. When the Hamas team began to scatter, Balacasan and the others split up to hunt them down.
Looking for a better vantage point, Balacasan climbed to the roof of his parents’ house. It was on the last row of houses before the security fence and he could see everything.
“It was a very good position because I controlled not all, but a lot of the view of the fence, all the roads, inside the kibbutz, outside the kibbutz,” he said.
“And I kept shooting all the time.”
Six Israeli soldiers finally arrived in the afternoon, he said. “The army joined us and helped us to kill them,” he said.
A half-hour later, another dozen soldiers got there. By the time the fighting was done, three locals were dead, including a security officer, Maj. Ofir Erez.
The bodies of 15 Hamas fighters were recovered on the kibbutz. Some were carrying maps of Sufa, Balacasan said.
But he thought they seemed unprepared.
They did not hold their weapons properly and seemed unfocused. They tried to set the doors of houses on fire. “It was very stupid,” he said.
Oded Ailam, a former director of counterterrorism at the Mossad intelligence agency, was not also impressed with what he saw in the videos.
Although these were the supposed to be elite forces of Hamas, they showed little tactical skill, he said.
They moved like they were taking a “walk in the park,” he said. They looked more like gang members than soldiers, he said.
“These are amateurs,” he said.
They were also poorly equipped, he said, using Second World War-era weapons that can be seen in the video misfiring.
He said he believed Hamas leaders did not predict their gunmen would break through the border so easily and were unprepared when they did.
“They focused all of their efforts and their tactics and their planning to get in,” said Ailam, who spent 24 years in the Mossad, much of it focused on Hamas.
“And once they were inside, I don’t think they had a good plan,” he said. “I don’t think it was even pre-planned that they would massacre on that scale. I think it was an outcome of the surprise and the euphoria.”
Sufa is now a ghost town, its banana and mango trees untended.
Residents were evacuated to a hotel in Eliat, the resort city on the Gulf of Aqaba that some call the Las Vegas of Israel.
In the lobby, they sat together, trying to make sense of what they went through and what was next.
Handelman began to shake as she recounted the attack. A children’s book author, she didn’t know if she would ever go back.
There are bullet holes all over her walls. A man died in her living room.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do,” she said. “I don’t know how the world can understand what we feel.”