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Left behind, in an assaulted Israeli town

A police station razed by Israeli forces<strong> </strong>after being occupied by Hamas militants in Sderot, Israel.
Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
A police station razed by Israeli forces after being occupied by Hamas militants in Sderot, Israel.

SDEROT, Israel — This assaulted Israeli town of more than 35,000 residents is now deserted — nearly.

Israeli authorities evacuated civilians from Sderot and other areas along the Gaza border after Hamas militants launched an attack Saturday that has killed more than 1,300 people in Israel.

A street and apartment building that was hit by a rocket from Gaza on Tuesday in Sderot, Israel.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
/
Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
A street and apartment building that was hit by a rocket from Gaza on Tuesday in Sderot, Israel.

A few survivors have remained behind.

In one Sderot building, its windows shattered by a Hamas rocket, is a Ukrainian immigrant. She cares for an ill Holocaust survivor.

Both are staying behind: one from a country at war, taking care of a survivor of another war, in their adoptive country fighting a new war.

In the same building, there are eight guest workers from China — construction workers — crowded in a room with beds and cooking pots.

Construction workers from China in a small apartment in Sderot, Israel.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
/
Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
Jiang Hua (left) is one of eight guest workers from China in a crowded apartment room in Sderot, Israel.
Jiang Hua is one of eight guest workers from China in a crowded apartment room in Sderot, Israel.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
/
Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
A construction worker from China stands in a small apartment in Sderot.

One of the laborers, Jiang Hua, says their boss told them there weren't any vehicles to get them out of the town since the attacks began Saturday.

They've heard gunfire and rocket fire for days on end. But he says they're reassured by the Israeli forces in the city.

A short drive away, the carcass of a car sits next to a grocery store. In another part of the city, a police station is in ruins, decimated by Israeli tank fire after Hamas militants stormed it, killing the police officers inside.

At the entrance of the city, Israeli medics and warriors take a break at a makeshift rest station next to a reinforced shelter.

A street that was hit by a rocket from Gaza on Tuesday in Sderot, Israel.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
A street that was hit by a rocket from Gaza on Tuesday in Sderot, Israel.
An abandoned quad bike caked with blood in Sderot, Israel.
/ Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
/
Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
An abandoned quad bike caked with blood in Sderot, Israel.

Efi Menahem, the sergeant of a special forces unit of the paramilitary border police, says he killed Hamas men next to an Israeli home. He says he saw Israelis' bodies without heads — burned or chopped off, he's not sure.

"Any emotions, you lock away," Menahem says.

Naomi Galeano, a medic with the United Hatzalah volunteer rescue service, spent the afternoon of the attacks driving past the carnage of bodies, looking for anyone still alive.

"There were more dead than alive," she says. "The world doesn't even know yet the amount of butchered bodies."

Israeli border police at a staging point for medics and security forces in Sderot, Israel.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
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Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
Israeli border police at a staging point for medics and security forces in Sderot, Israel.
A destroyed van in Sderot, Israel.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
/
Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
A destroyed van in Sderot, Israel.

Less than a mile away is the Gaza Strip, where more than 1,500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli reprisal airstrikes. Its 2 million residents are trapped in the small coastal territory — blockaded by Israel and Egypt — without reinforced shelters and unable to flee.

Shattered glass at the entrance to a closed grocery store in Sderot, Israel.
/ Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
/
Tanya Habjouqa/NOOR for NPR
Shattered glass at the entrance to a closed grocery store in Sderot, Israel.

Militants in Gaza fire rockets across the border. They speed through the cloudy afternoon skies.

Galeano calls out to the crowds of medics and soldiers to duck into the reinforced outdoor shelter.

"Get in, get in, get in," she calls out. The concrete shelter walls shake with each boom.

Then the medics hop in their ambulance, and the paramilitary fighters board their vehicles, and they all speed off.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Tanya Habjouqa
Daniel Estrin
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Samantha Balaban
Samantha Balaban is a producer at Weekend Edition.