TENSION stalks Sderot's totally deserted streets, as its buildings are riddled with bullet holes, smashed and burned and the cloying odour of death hovers in the air.
The entire 27,000-strong population had fled the small Israeli town amid reports that Hamas terrorists are still holed up in the area and waiting to strike again.
The silence of these strife-torn streets is punctuated only by the boom of bombs falling in Gaza two miles away and sirens warning of more rocket attacks.
This is the ghost town of Sderot two weeks after hundreds of Hamas savages roared into town in a fleet of pick-up trucks and motorbikes to deliver death and terror.
Myself and Sun photographer Doug Seeburg ventured first to a hill on Sderot’s outskirts with a clear view into Gaza across fields and scrub land.
This was the spot given the bleak nickname, “The Sderot Cinema” from where we watched Israel’s awful revenge taking shape.
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Skies above fill with the roar and screech of fighter jets, the buzz of military drones and constant boom of outgoing artillery fire.
I pity all of the trapped innocents who were caught in this terrible crossfire as attack after attack zero in on Hamas’s terrorist lairs.
And we watched, an entire low-rise apartment block in the west Gaza town of Beit Hanoun collapsed in an explosive pall of smoke and dust.
We learn that Hamas stragglers are still feared to be at large near Sderot invaded more than two weeks ago as terrorists took 1,400 lives.
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They were never going to give up and I was told the bulldozers went in to demolish the building with them still inside
An IDF soldier told me as we looked through powerful lens towards Gaza: “We believe that some of them are still here – one was caught and detained trying to get back to Gaza this morning.
“The people of Sderot are used to living life dangerously – it’s the most rocketed place in the world because it’s so close to Gaza.
“But it's too dangerous for anyone to stay here now. The terrorists could pop up from hiding places and come back at any time – and the rockets are still coming.”
Driving through the empty streets of Sderot is a truly haunting experience for anyone who has seen the many videos of its landmarks in terrifying videos of the October 7 attacks.
Virtually every roundabout and intersection we see has appeared in footage showing families being shot dead in their cars and innocents murdered without mercy.
Debris from the battle which took place here for hours before the Hamas militants were killed or driven into retreat is strewn everywhere.
Bullet-riddled and blood-stained cars I recognise from CCTV footage of the horror posted online have not been moved and remain as monuments to the carnage.
And signs of the never-ending rocket war being fought in the skies also litter the streets and fields.
An IDF soldier hands me the nose cone from an Israeli Iron Dome rocket used to intercept one of the thousands of rockets fired into this region in the past two weeks.
Heavily armed troops control the access to all roads into Sderot but anyone entering finds themselves suddenly alone in its lifeless thoroughfares.
I have been here before on previous trips covering the Gaza wars and both impressed and baffled by the tenacious townsfolk.
Families thronged its playgrounds beside bomb shelters painted with cartoon characters.
But why would anyone want to bring up kids in a place which comes under rocket attack several times a day – and is so close to a group who swears to slaughter their Jewish neighbours?
Turning a corner and driving slowly down an incline, we eventually came to what became the epicentre of the battle of Sderot.
Scores of terrorists laid siege to the fortified three story police station in the centre of the town and many police defenders died before IDF reinforcements arrived.
This was the spot where female police Superintendent Mali Shoshana and another cop battled until their ammunition ran out and tossed back grenades thrown by Hamas.
Shoshana lived to tell the tale by holding her breath and playing dead as the terrorists stepped over her and overwhelmed her workplace.
Israel’s IDF then laid siege to the police station for days before overwhelming the fanatical Islamist militia inside.
But the once pristine community building has been left so devastated that it has since been raised to the ground by bulldozers.
An IDF soldier told me: “Many police died there because help was so slow to arrive.
“The terrorists took our police station and were in control of our town in those hours until they were cornered there.
“They were never going to give up and I was told the bulldozers went in to demolish the building with them still inside.
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“It was left in ruins and is gone now because no one want to be reminded of what happened there.
“But the people of this town will come back once Hamas has gone and rebuild another.”
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