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'We saw people getting shot': Survivors of Israeli psytrance festival share accounts of Hamas attack

In the early hours of Saturday, gunmen stormed the SUPERNOVA event near Gaza, killing more than 260 people.

Content warning: This article contains first-hand accounts of extreme violence.

A psytrance festival in Israel was attacked by Palestinian militant group Hamas at dawn on Saturday, October 7th.

According to the Guardian, thousands of revellers from Israel and beyond had gathered in the Negev desert, three miles from the Palestinian territory of Gaza, to celebrate the end of the Jewish festival of Sukkot. The event was SUPERNOVA, a debut collaboration between Brazilian-run global series Universo Paralello and local promoter Tribe of Nova.

At around 6:30 AM, Hamas gunmen in jeeps, on motorbikes and attached to motorised paragliders stormed the site, killing at least 260 people and taking others as hostages. Many are still missing, say the Israeli authorities.

Omri Sassi, one of SUPERNOVA's organisers, told RA that the party was insured and had been authorised by the Israeli army and police. "The police were with us in the party," he said. "But nobody knew anything about what was going to happen."

According to Sassi, when rockets started firing from Gaza into Israel "the police stopped the party and told everyone to leave the area and go somewhere safe." People began piling into nearby bunkers but were found by Hamas soldiers, who threw grenades and shot indiscriminately. Other people ran for their cars.

"I got to my friend's car and I was in the parking area," Sassi said. "Seven of us got into the car. When the soldiers came, they shot at us. One friend died. Another friend had two bullets on the legs."

Sassi said he then told two friends who had been shot to play dead underneath a jeep. He escaped with two other friends to a dry riverbank around a kilometre away, where they hid for several hours until they were rescued by a friend from the army.

Eilam Gelles, who is 23 and lives in Israel, attended the festival with friends. He initially thought the gunshots were fireworks. "Then you start to realise you're hearing way too much noise," he told RA. "That it doesn't really sound like fireworks."

At first, Gelles said people gathered near their tents to decide whether to take cover or leave. Eventually, he felt it was time to move, but the north side of the site was gridlocked with traffic so he navigated towards the south side.

"We started driving and a few minutes later, a friend looks through the rear mirror to see about 13 motorcycles with armed militants," he said. "They start spraying us in the same way they sprayed people at the party and people going north."

In the end, Gelles said he and his friends ended up in a nearby army base that had also been infiltrated by Hamas. One of his friends had been shot multiple times. "We stayed there hiding for about an hour or so until it got too intense–we could hear shots all the time," he said." They were on us. So we ran for our lives to a different safer space and managed to get in."

Israeli DJ Rocky Tilbor, who was due to play SUPERNOVA at midday on Saturday, arrived on-site at 5:30 AM to meet the promoters. After escaping with his girlfriend, he also ended up moving between shelters. "We were seeing people getting shot," he told RA. "We couldn't move from the area for 12 hours."

Both promoters behind SUPERNOVA have released statements via social media. Universo Paralello, writing on Instagram, said it was "deeply saddened and extremely shaken," while Tribe of Nova, via Facebook, said "we strengthen and share the grief of the missing and murdered families."

The SUPERNOVA attack was part of Hamas's most coordinated and sustained offensive against Israel in decades. Dubbed "Al-Aqsa Storm," the operation was, according to Hamas commander Muhammad Al-Deif, in retaliation to attacks on women, the desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem—which sits on a holy site for both Jews and Muslims—and the ongoing siege in Gaza, CNN reports.

Israel's government responded by declaring a state of war and immediately launching aerial attacks on Gaza, killing and displacing hundreds of Palestinians. The fighting continues on both sides, with the total death toll currently more than 1,300.

Earlier today, October 9th, Israel's defence minister, Yoav Gallant, announced "a complete siege" on Gaza, where approximately two million people live "under brutal occupation and apartheid," according to Amnesty International. Gaza is part of the State of Palestine, which has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. Between 2008 and 2020, 120,286 Palestinians and 5,887 Israelis have died or been injured in the conflict.

Watch the Guardian's round-up of the events at SUPERNOVA.

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