Monday, July 22

She was away when Hamas invaded kibbutz and seized her family

It began as a pleasant Saturday morning. Leeor Katz, a 37-year-old dental hygienist, was visiting her husband’s family in central Israel for the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.

Then she started receiving texts from the Nir Oz kibbutz where she lived, just two miles from the Gaza Strip border: Fighters from the Palestinian militant group Hamas had entered the property and were burning down houses.

“They were walking freely inside Israel, in a kibbutz inside Israeli borders,” Katz said. “We never thought it would happen.”

The text chain, on a messaging group for kibbutz residents, said people inside safe rooms were struggling to breathe because of smoke from the fires.

Katz did not realize that the attack was part of a sophisticated, multipronged assault by Hamas that saw its fighters kidnap an estimated 150 people and take them back to Gaza, precipitating a war with Israel.

At 8 a.m., Katz called her sister, 34-year-old Doron Asher, who whispered that she and her two children — 2-year-old Raz and 4-year-old Aviv — were in a safe room with their mother, 67-year-old Efrat.

Their brother, 51-year-old Ravid, part of an armed watch group on the kibbutz, had left to confront the attackers. His girlfriend and their 4-month-old baby stayed with a neighbor for a while before managing to escape the kibbutz.

After a frantic few hours of messaging and trying to understand what was happening in her home, Katz called her mother.

Her mother’s boyfriend, Gadi Moses, had left to go reason with the militants and had yet to return, her mother explained. Everybody else was still in the safe room.

That was the last contact Katz had with any of them. She kept calling, but nobody answered.

It wasn’t until hours later that Katz finally learned what happened, after a brother-in-law saw a video on social media of militants driving hostages — including her relatives — in pickups inside Gaza.

“I couldn’t watch,” Katz said. “It was too hard for me.”

Nir Oz has since been evacuated, as Israeli troops gather in villages near the border with Gaza in what appears to be preparation for a land incursion into the enclave.

On Monday, after an hours-long barrage of strikes on Gaza, the spokesman of Hamas’ armed wing announced “any targeting of civilian homes without advanced warning will be met regrettably with the execution of one of the enemy civilian hostages we hold.”

Clouds of smoke rise over buildings

Israel targeted Gaza City with airstrikes on Oct. 9, 2023.

(Sameh Rahmi / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Katz said she was “trying not to believe everything I hear.”

Waiting for any information about her family — her mother, sister, brother and nieces — she said, “I’m scared, but I’m trying to have hope.

“We’ve gotten no word from anyone. Not the army. Not the police. Not the government.”

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