By Jonathan Shkurko and Andria Kades

The feeling of uncertainty weighed heavily at Larnaca airport on Wednesday, as attacks between Israel and Hamas entered their fifth day and Israelis fled for safety in Cyprus or desperately tried to return to reunite with their families back home.

Suitcases were strewn outside the synagogue in Larnaca, as over 2,000 people have sought refuge and help from the Jewish community on the island since Saturday’s attacks, according to its public affairs chief Menachem Raskin.

Larnaca airport was packed with Israeli nationals also trying to fly back – many wanting to join the fight against Hamas – even as scores of families travelled in the opposite direction, making their way to Cyprus for safety.

Some landed on the island with nothing but the shirts on their back.

“Since the Holocaust, we have never seen something like that,” Raskin told the Cyprus Mail.

One man who left Israel with his wife and three children earlier in the morning told the Cyprus Mail at Larnaca airport they got on the first flight they found.

“We have wanted to leave Israel since Sunday, we live in Ashdod, close to Gaza and it’s not safe there now, especially with families, after what happened,” he said.

“The thing that hurts the most is that we don’t know when we will return yet. Cyprus is close enough to be able to go back fast, but we don’t know when.

“What we saw we will never forget, and the world also shouldn’t.”

Another couple were flying to Budapest to stay with family members as they desperately tried to get away from the fighting.

“We decided to leave as soon as we saw what happened near Gaza. We have a son in the army, and he stayed behind to serve his country. We pray every day that nothing happens to him,” they said.

“We are far from Gaza, but we are still close to the northern border with Lebanon and unfortunately we are afraid of attacks from Hezbollah, something that happened in the past.

“Our hearts are crying that we have to leave our country, it shouldn’t be like this. But we are just afraid. This is not war, this is just pure violence and evil, there is no negotiating with people like Hamas.”

Another family of five from southern Israel who live relatively close to Gaza said “we know no one here but we had to leave for a bit. Still, we will manage, I’m sure of it.”

synagogue pic1

Piles of aid left outside the synagogue

They added the incidents “will not be forgotten but we need to look at the future positively. There is no other way”.

Raskin told the Cyprus Mail that accommodation in Larnaca was impossible to find as everything had been fully booked, stretching as far as Pervolia.

“We are trying to be creative, trying to find solutions even as far as Protaras.”

He specified there are two groups of people: those that are coming from Israel, escaping the violence that’s happening and individuals coming from abroad, using Cyprus as a temporary transit.

“People are fighting for tickets, it’s a very difficult situation, we are trying to help people in whatever way we can.”

Raskin highlighted many people flew to Cyprus with nothing but their clothes on, who are in a state of shock and panic, deeply traumatised by everything they experienced.

“These people came here and have no idea where to go, many have never been to Cyprus. They had to get on a plane to get away as fast as possible.”

He added Cyprus was the easiest destination to go to as it is seen as friendly country and relatively safe.

Many in the community are grieving, he noted as Israel counts over 1,000 deaths. “Israel is a very interwoven country, we’re all Jewish, we all know each someone at least to a second degree that was a victim of the attack. We know people that flew from here to funerals in Israel.”

Raskin shared that on the first day of the attack, as an Orthodox Jew, he did not use the phone or electronic device due it being a holiday so there was little information known about what was happening. However Raskin witnessed a father in Cyprus receive live information from his son who was hiding from the terrorists in a secured room back in Israel over what was happening.

“In a few hours his whole family was gone. He found out he lost his whole family, his son, the kids. It was terrible to see.

“Before I saw any videos of the actual atrocities that animals did there, just seeing the grief of this father who stood here shocked for a full day and could not move and could not speak. He was waiting for the end of the holiday to catch a flight for his son’s funeral.”

Raskin said the unity observed in the aftermath of the attack is the community’s biggest strength.

“We are going to rebuild all the cities that were destroyed, the families that were murdered – there will be more families, new families,” he said.

“There are weddings taking place right now in Israel, we don’t stop anything. We have to keep the fire going, we have to stay alive and show that we are alive. I’m sure that God will be with us and make sure these horrors will never happen again.”