More than 2,500 Israelis have sought sanctuary in Cyprus where the local Jewish community has come to their aid, the chief rabbi on the island said on Thursday.
A less than 40-minute plane trip away from Israel, the sleepy seaside town of Larnaca has received droves of Israelis since Saturday, when Hamas militants breached the barrier fence from Gaza and went on a bloody rampage through Israeli towns.
Larnaca, hosting Cyprus’s biggest airport, has seen a swell of expatriate Israelis, including reservists, using it as a transit point to get on the next available flight to Tel Aviv. It has also seen an influx from Israel of people who lost their homes, Chief Rabbi Arie Zeev Raskin said.
“Everyone opened their doors, including many many Cypriots,” Raskin told Reuters.
Raskin, who has been in Cyprus for more than 20 years, said there were about 2,500 Israelis in the Larnaca area at present, including traumatised children.
“It is something above any understanding… this takes us back to Auschwitz, the Holocaust, to pictures that we were hoping to never see again.”
Perched on the edge of the volatile Middle East, Cyprus has seen little turmoil since it was torn apart in a Turkish invasion in 1974 which followed a brief Greek-inspired coup.
But Raskin signalled his concern about two gatherings held in the centre of the town this week attended by Arabs and which celebrated recent events. “More than 500,000 Jewish people visited this year… We want to continue to give these people a feeling this is a place that we are welcome,” he said.
The community was encouraged that Cypriot authorities were working on providing incoming Israelis with accommodation but as of Wednesday night, Larnaca itself had reached full capacity.
“We are urgently seeking more accommodation, anyone that can even offer a bedroom in a big house… we don’t have where to put people to sleep,” he said.
“I just got off the phone and there are another 150 people on their way here now, with zero plans of where to stay, where to eat and how long. Nothing.”
An informal network of Israelis were working in every Cypriot city to offer first response aid and accommodation, he said. “For us as a community we need to open arms, hug them all and receive them safely.” [Reuters]