Israelis recount terrifying escape during Hamas attack on dance party

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Arik Nani went to a dance party in southern Israel to celebrate his 26th birthday on Friday night but ended up fleeing a massacre as missiles roared overhead and Hamas gunmen shot down people as they tried to escape.

Thousands of young people attended the Nature Party, near Kibbutz Re’im close to Gaza, which became one of the first targets of Palestinian gunmen who crossed into Israel early on Saturday in the biggest attack on the country in decades.

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“I heard shots from every direction, they were firing at us from both sides,” he told Reuters. “Everyone was running and didn’t know what to do. It was total chaos.”

As rocket fire exploded around, panicked party goers tried to escape in any way they could.

“At one stage me and a friend got into a car with people we didn’t know and we just jumped into a car with lots of people and started to drive,” said 23 year-old Zohar Maariv. After the car came under fire, they fled on foot and hid for hours until they were rescued. But her boyfriend Matan, who had worked at the party, was still missing.

At least 700 Israelis were killed and dozens more were abducted into Gaza in scenes that have left a profound shock on a country which had long prided itself on its ultra efficient military and security services.

At the Nature Party alone, Israeli media said emergency services collected 260 bodies.

“Only this morning did I understand the scale of what happened, that what had happened was not only at the party, it’s the whole south is on fire,” Maariv said.

After hours of running, Nani and his friend finally reached shelter where he heard horrifying stories from others who had escaped. “People speaking about murder they saw in front of their eyes, someone who saw an entire kidnapped family and a small girl who was murdered,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed an unprecedented response to the assault and Israeli jets have bombarded Gaza continuously, killing more than 400 Palestinians.

For Nani, the feeling of those who had not been able to escape remained.

“There were lots of terrible things along the way, people I wanted to help but couldn’t. People who were left behind, people who needed something,” he said.

“We started texting”

Noa Argamani and her boyfriend Avinatan Or were also at the party but did not make it home.

They are now identified among dozens of Israelis apparently held captive in Gaza after video circulated showing Noa being carried away on the back of a motorcycle, pleading and reaching out towards her boyfriend being marched alongside on foot.

As warning sirens sounded across southern and central Israel when the missiles started flying in the early hours of Saturday, people started trying to contact friends and relatives.

“We started texting everyone,” Amit Parpara, a friend, told Reuters. Other friends at the party managed to escape in their cars, he said but at first it was impossible to get in touch with Noa or Avinatan until he received a text himself.

“She texted me her live location and a message that says ‘I hope someone can come save us,’“ he said.

He said he had seen photos of the pair hiding in a hole, waiting for rescue.

Yaakov Argamani, Noa’s father, told Channel 12 television that he had seen the footage of his daughter being driven away on the motorbike and confirmed her identity.

“She was so terrified. I always protected her and in this moment I couldn’t.”

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