Israel military says 'failed' to protect Gaza border kibbutz from Hamas attack

Kibbutz Beeri, near the Gaza border, was one of the worst-hit communities in the October 7 attacks on Israel, with more than 100 residents killed by Hamas militants (Thomas COEX)
Kibbutz Beeri, near the Gaza border, was one of the worst-hit communities in the October 7 attacks on Israel, with more than 100 residents killed by Hamas militants (Thomas COEX)

The Israeli military acknowledged Thursday it "failed" a kibbutz where more than 100 people died during Hamas's October 7 attacks after an internal probe found serious flaws in troops' conduct.

Kibbutz Beeri saw one of the fiercest battles of the Hamas incursion into southern Israel with hundreds of militants and troops fighting for control for nearly 24 hours.

It was also one of the most controversial, with the inhabitants complaining that the army took too long to intervene.

A inquiry summary, made public after being presented to kibbutz families, concluded that the military "failed in its mission to protect the residents of Kibbutz Beeri".

It said there had been a "lack of coordination" in the military response and that forces were "not prepared for the extensive infiltration scenario that occurred on October 7".

Just four kilometres (two and a half miles) from Gaza, Kibbutz Beeri was one of the worst-hit communities on October 7, second only to the Nova music festival for the number of victims.

According to the military report, 101 Beeri civilians were killed and 32 taken hostage, 11 of whom remain captive in Gaza. Twenty-three soldiers and eight police were also killed.

At the time of the attack, the community was home to around 1,100 people.

In their response to the report, Beeri families called for more action. They demanded a state commission of inquiry to "ensure that the incredible loss we experienced cannot happen again".

- 'Where's the army?' -

Kibbutz residents said the military report did not explain why it took soldiers stationed outside so long to engage Hamas gunmen while "the kibbutz burned and its inhabitants begged for help".

According to the military's own timeline, residents were left fighting the militants for hours before the first soldiers arrived.

It was not until 4:15 pm, almost 10 hours after the attack began, that a full military unit arrived to establish a command centre, and not until 6:00 pm that 700 soldiers and other security personnel were "operating" in the kibbutz.

The army said around 340 "terrorists" from Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups stormed the kibbutz, torching more than 150 homes, looting and murdering families.

In one incident, 13 civilians died in a home where they were being held hostage, which witnesses said was fired on by an Israeli tank. The inquiry said it determined "to the best of its knowledge" that none died from tank fire and "most of the hostages were likely murdered by the terrorists".

Accounts collected by survivors of the residents' last messages to loved ones capture harrowing details as gunmen overran the rural community.

"Where's the army? They're breaking into our home!" read one message in the resident-run archive "Memorial 710".

The army is conducting inquiries into several October 7 incidents.

The military summary concluded that while this "first and only inquiry so far ... does not reflect the full picture of what occurred on that day, it clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the scale of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who defended their families with their bodies for many hours" before troops arrived.

The October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures. The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 42 the military says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 38,345 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.