I walked up the hill to the main stage area of the Nova Festival site knowing we were entering a murderous scene the world has heard so much about but has yet to fully understand.

As I passed bullet-ridden cars where people trying to escape were gunned down; burnt-out cars where some young people had tried to hide; and past camping chairs, sleeping bags, roll mats and unopened snacks, it struck me that it seemed almost suspended in time.

Colourful tents flap in the breeze and bars with bottles of whiskey left as the massacre began haven’t been touched.

It’s taken days to get access to the Nova Festival site; the authorities have been collecting the bodies of more than 250 young men and women killed here.

The scene at the site of Nova Festival
The scene at the site of Nova Festival

The scene at the site of Nova Festival
People’s belongings are seen strewn on the ground

Throughout our wait, they told us it was simply too dangerous.

The site is remote and on public land between two kibbutzim – Be’eri and Re’im – both of which were attacked like the festival on Saturday morning.

Hamas, it seems, came determined to abduct people, but mainly to murder them. And these locations constitute the worst terror attacks in Israel’s history.

The abandoned bar at the Nova Festival site
An abandoned bar at the Nova Festival site

At the festival campsite, teams of recovery specialists are conducting fingertip searches for human remains burnt during the attack.

Stunned looking soldiers are making their way through the site, checking for personal belongings and potential booby traps left by the Hamas raiding party.

IDF soldiers patrol the Nova Festival site
IDF soldiers patrol the site

The cars that people tried to escape in but found themselves trapped in litter the entire festival site.

Some cars are burnt beyond recognition, others are riddled with bullets.

Burnt-out cars at the site of the Nova Festival massacre
Burnt-out cars

Cars are seen pockmarked with bullet holes
Cars are seen pockmarked with bullet holes

A car abandoned at the site of Nova Festival
An abandoned car

The cars that have been checked for booby traps are marked with a blue X. The ones that have yet to be checked by the bomb squad are marked with a yellow one.

It’s eery and it’s tense.

Suddenly we hear one gunshot, followed shortly after by another. We start to hear lots of shouting and see soldiers running toward the outer edge of the festival site.

A suspected Hamas militant has appeared, brandishing a knife.

A man is apprehended at the Nova Festival
A man is apprehended at the Nova Festival

A man is apprehended at the Nova Festival
Soldiers said they feared the man may have a suicide vest

A man is detained at the site of the Nova Festival massacre

Machine guns raised and pointing at him, he is told to undress – they worry he has a suicide vest on.

Once he is undressed, he is forced to the floor, blindfolded, and his hands bound.

Other soldiers take defensive positions to protect their colleagues – there could easily be more Hamas militants still hiding.

This type of encounter has been happening since Saturday in southern Israel and shows just how volatile the situation still is.

And even now after another day, more troops are being deployed to this and many other sites.

Only Hamas knows how many of their assassins remain inside this country.

Nova Festival
Belongings abandoned in a tent by party goers
Belongings abandoned in a tent by party goers

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“The reason we have so many forces here is because this whole area is still dangerous – we waited an hour on the outskirts of this area because they were afraid there are still terrorists here,” an Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson told me.

“We’re here under guard, but we have to let people do their jobs. People were massacred here, there is a reason to be on high alert.”

The festival was abruptly stopped when rockets started exploding around the partygoers.

Many decided to stay where they were and others joined traffic queues trying to leave, but then the shooting started.

Many simply didn’t stand a chance.

We came across Anel, one of the festival organisers, who was packing up the equipment he had left behind and loading it into his pick-up truck and trailer.

A survivor of the massacre at Nova Festival
A survivor of the massacre

He is a survivor. He says it’s a miracle he is alive, and that the attack was lightning quick.

I asked him how he got away.

“We were just on autopilot you know, pure instinct, this is what I can say about myself, but a lot of friends, a lot of people, didn’t make it…” his voice trails off.

This is a massive crime scene of course and Israel is promising to avenge the deaths of its young people.

But for the many families of those young people murdered here, time may really feel like it has stopped.

That Saturday morning will never be forgotten.

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