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Israelis donate blood at a hospital in Tel Aviv on Oct. 7 after a barrage of rockets were fired and fighters from the Gaza Strip infiltrated Israel, a major escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel's army said it was fighting Gaza militants who entered Israel by land, sea and air using paragliders, after a barrage of rockets was fired at Israel from the Palestinian enclave.JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Canadian bride Jess Burke was in Jerusalem for her wedding with dozens of friends and relatives when the surprise attack by Hamas started Saturday.

Ms. Burke, 30, woke up early to the sound of air raid sirens. “Immediately after, you could hear missiles being intercepted,” she said. “Some were very, very close and a few of the anti-missile defence system interceptions were so loud” that they were shaking the apartment she was staying in and the building’s bomb shelter.

When she left the shelter, she walked for 30 minutes to give blood to meet the urgent demand for the injured, she said. “My best friend’s cousin was murdered today, and I don’t know if some of our friends and family are alive.”

Emil Solomon, 65, lost count of the number of bombs he heard Saturday in Giv’atayim, just east of Tel Aviv. Each time, alarms announced that residents of the building he was in had one minute to take shelter in its safe room. Most bombs were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defence system, he said, but some also exploded in the city, damaging buildings.

Mr. Solomon, who is from Toronto and was visiting relatives in Israel with his wife, said he does not know when they will be able to make it back to Canada. “We have tickets, but we don’t know if the airport will be open,” he said. “This time, it’s a real war. It’s not like the way it was,” Mr. Solomon said, referring to the past 50 years, since the Yom Kippur War.

What we know so far about Hamas’s attack, Israel’s response and international reaction

Saturday’s attacks in Israel and the retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza, which combined have left hundreds dead, hit close to home for many Canadians who woke up to alarming reports and worry for their relatives in the Middle East.

Vancouver resident Nico Slobinsky recalled the desperate hours he spent trying to locate his 19-year-old sister Naomi, who was attending a music festival in Israel near the Gaza border, where more than 200 people are reported to have been killed by Hamas militants.

Thousands of revellers fled the Supernova festival into the Negev desert during the early-morning attack.

“She literally had to run for her life. It was chaos,” Mr. Slobinsky recounted, after finally reaching his sister by telephone. Surrounded by explosions and gunfire, his sister and her boyfriend couldn’t make it back to their car. They left all their belongings and fled into the surrounding fields, where they hid until Israeli soldiers picked them up and led them to a military base for shelter.

Mr. Slobinsky’s father, meanwhile, was locked down in the city of Ashdod, roughly 45 kilometres from the Gaza Strip, while Israeli and Hamas forces engaged in gun battles.

Mr. Slobinsky, a vice-president of a Canadian advocacy organization, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said Jewish families across Canada spent the weekend in similar circumstances.

“You can imagine the kinds of conversations that people have had over the last 48 hours – the anguish, and the desperation for information to know if your loved ones, your family, your friends, your community are safe.”

Israelis recount terrified flight as Hamas gunmen attack dance party

Ora Bar, a Concordia University student in Montreal who was born in Be’er Sheva, Israel, woke up at 3 a.m. ET Saturday to messages of support from a group chat and has been anxiously monitoring news and social media since. “We’ve all been mourning with the country as it goes,” she said.

Ms. Bar, 25, said she spent a few months in 2021 in Tel Aviv. Her former roommate sent her a text message saying that “a rocket fell right next to where our house was” before she evacuated. “This kind of example of proximity is just one among so many,” Ms. Bar said in an interview. “It could have been me.”

Jennifer Ouaknine, who lives in Toronto, said she has family all over Israel, several of whom are in areas that were under attack, including her mother in Ashdod. “My mom can’t catch a breath, she’s just been crying the entire day,” she said. “It’s just a horrific scene unfolding in Israel, like nothing like we’ve ever seen before,” Ms. Ouaknine, 43, said.

Robbie Segall, a 22-year-old from Montreal in Israel for an internship, said he felt safe in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, where he’s been staying with friends for the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, but was frustrated with “the lack of care or assistance from the Canadian government.”

Mr. Segall said he was at a synagogue when air raid sirens began going off, prompting multiple trips to bomb shelters and cancelling holiday services.

He said he contacted the emergency contact line set up for Canadians in Israel but was redirected to the Canadian Embassy. Segall said he was told the embassy was closed for Thanksgiving, and requests for travel information and emergencies wouldn’t be answered until after the long weekend.

Officials looking into report that a Canadian is dead after Hamas attack on Israel

“Luckily I’m in a place where I feel safer, but if I felt that I really, really needed to get out, I wouldn’t be able to get any help from the Canadian government, from the embassy until Tuesday,” he said in an interview.

The government said Sunday that consular officials were available to provide services to Canadians requesting assistance and told citizens to contact Global Affairs Canada’s emergency watch response centre.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Canadians worried about relatives in Gaza, after Israel launched retaliatory airstrikes and formally declared war on Hamas Sunday.

At a protest in support of Palestine in Montreal on Sunday, Ghada Sasa, a PhD candidate at McMaster University in Hamilton, said her family, too, was displaced by Israeli occupation. Relatives who live in Gaza with whom she had been in touch were doing okay for the moment, “but obviously a lot of people aren’t okay,” she said in an interview Sunday as death tolls rose.

“There’s no escape, right? It’s an open-air prison, the population is extremely concentrated. There’s no shelter, there’s no place to escape” from Israeli strikes in Gaza, she said. “The people there are quite helpless.”

With a report from The Canadian Press

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