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O.C. group exits Israel as attacks escalate

Jewish Federation members fly out day after strikes, 26 local high schoolers remain in country.

July 15, 2006|By Michael Miller

Forty-two members of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, including a number of Newport-Mesa residents, flew out of Israel this week just a day after violence erupted at the Lebanon border.

Others from the center stayed behind as trouble escalated in both the north and south regions of the country.

On Thursday, the group from the federation, consisting of both adults and children, boarded a plane at the end of a 12-day mission through Israel. The day before, the Hezbollah terrorist group had launched a major offensive in the north, firing missiles at towns and military targets, while a separate conflict with Palestinian militants continued south in Gaza.

On Friday, Israeli officials vowed to destroy Hezbollah, which is headquartered in Lebanon, raising the potential for violence and conflict even higher.

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Meanwhile, several administrators from the Orange County center remained in Israel, and a separate group of 26 local high school students ? sponsored by the Bureau of Jewish Education, an affiliate of the federation ? continued a five-and-a-half-week study trip.

"The situation has deteriorated dramatically today with the number of rockets," Shalom Elcott, the federation's chief executive officer, said by phone from Tel Aviv on Friday. "The population is waiting to see what happens next. Things are a little bit quieter on the southern side in Gaza, but overall, there's been a significant amount of damage.

"Resources are being stretched thin. We've got kids living in bomb shelters pretty much throughout the north today, and people in Israel, as is customary, are glued to TV sets and radios to see what's happening," he added.

Elcott said that Kathleen Ron, the federation's director of community relations, was staying in a house near the Lebanon border when the offensive began on Wednesday. She was stuck there for two nights as transportation was unavailable. On Friday, he reported that she was traveling by car to Tel Aviv, from where she would then fly back to California.

The federation's mission, officially titled "Connect 2 Israel," was intended to bond American citizens with their Israeli heritage. During the trip, participants visited a number of historical sites as well as Kiryat Malachi, the federation's sister community. At one point, the group even went to an army observation tower and observed the aftermath of a missile strike in Gaza.

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