A grid of narrow streets, framed by concrete apartment blocks and pro-Palestinian graffiti, is where Israeli troops are training in preparation for an expected ground assault on Gaza.
Sky News was given rare access to what is designed to look like a section of a Palestinian city – but is actually an area jutting out of a sprawling military base in southern Israel, surrounded by farmland.
“We built this so soldiers could be trained at the highest level possible so when the day would come we would need to do something like this, we would be ready,” said Major Doron Spielman, a spokesperson for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
“We didn’t know a week ago that this would immediately go into action and be a very real training ground with possibly a very real purpose.”
‘We will eliminate them all’
Street-to-street combat is one of the hardest forms of warfare, with each building a potential booby trap, each alley a possible ambush point and snipers able to hide inside homes.
It makes practising how to operate in an urban environment crucial for soldiers from Israel’s Givati Brigade, who will likely be among the first wave of troops in any ground invasion into the Hamas stronghold of Gaza City.
Standing in front of a white stone wall daubed with a Palestinian flag, one of the commanders in the brigade said he and his soldiers were ready for anything.
Asked if he had a message for Hamas, Olek said: “Let them be ready… Let them know that we are going to reach every terrorist, both who entered Israel’s territory, and also those who did not enter Israel’s territory.
“We will reach everyone. We will eliminate them all. We will restore peace and tranquillity to the State of Israel.”
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Troops ready to move ‘on a dime’
Away from the fake city, Sky News was taken to see elements of the Givati Brigade mobilise in lines of military vehicles across a dusty field, also as part of the training exercise.
The unit, which was previously deployed into Gaza during the last major incursion in 2014, incorporates a combination of tanks, troops and engineers, skilled at defusing bombs.
They are ready to move “on a dime”, Major Spielman said.
“These soldiers are well trained, able to receive orders and implement them immediately.”
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Civilians switched into military mode
Perhaps surprisingly, many of the troops had until a week ago been living ordinary civilian lives as doctors, students, and lawyers.
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But they switched into military mode in response to an unprecedented call-up of reservists in the wake of the 7 October terror attack by Hamas militants against Israel that left more than 1,300 Israeli citizens dead, the majority of them civilians, including women and children.
Dozens more have been kidnapped and taken into Gaza. Their fate will doubtless be playing into plans for the shape and timing of any ground incursion.
Standing next to a Humvee, Neal and Noy, both 23 and reservists, are part of a team of all-female soldiers who help drive military vehicles in the training exercises.
Asked why they wanted to serve, Neal said: “It is the most important job for us.”
Noy added: “We are fighting for our country and all of us need to be a part of it. The men are in the war, they are going to go in, and we are going to do our best, the women, to help [with] training.”
Written by: Newsroom