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An Israeli mother has described the moment her two children were taken hostage by Hamas – with the younger of the two pleading with fighters not to take him to Gaza because he is “too young”.
Renana Gome told a press briefing held by Israel's Foreign Ministry her sons, aged 12 and 16, are being held by Hamas in Gaza.
"The last thing I heard was my youngest saying 'I am too young. Don’t take me'. And they took him," she said.
She said her sons were sleeping at her former husband’s house in Kibbutz Sufa when Hamas fighters broke into their community and went on the rampage, shooting at people on October 7.
“[They are] somewhere in Gaza," she said. "I don't know if they're eating, I don't know if they're sleeping, I don't know if they're tortured, I don't know if they're together, I don't know if they're alive.”
She said 80 people from her community of 400 have been taken hostage, with 30 killed.
At least 1,300 Israelis were killed, with 190 believed to have been taken hostage, when hundreds of Hamas militants crossed the Gaza border and launched a brazen attack on Israel.
Israel has pummelled the Gaza Strip in retaliatory attacks to destroy Hamas's military infrastructure, with the death toll reaching 2,750 and more than a million from northern Gaza displaced. The head of the UN's relief agency has said the strip "is being strangled" as more than two million people await humanitarian aid.
Israel has said it will not back down until hostages are released and Hamas is destroyed.
'Children of Gaza have tough life'
Ms Gome said that as the border communities came under attack, she woke up to people speaking Arabic and breaking into her children’s bedroom while she was on phone with her sons.
“My eldest [is] a strong guy … he was holding the door very hard. They had a hard time opening the door but they did and snatched my two boys out of their bedroom.”
The whereabouts of her former husband and his girlfriend, who was also in the house, is not known.
Ms Gome said she sympathised with children in Gaza.
“I still believe this is the right way for humans to live next to each other. You know, borders are between countries, they are not between people. They are not between babies and children and elderly people.
“I always used to tell my kids that the children in Gaza struggle a lot harder, that they have a much worse life than we do. They don't have running water. They don't have electricity.
“My heart goes out to every child in Gaza who was killed, every mother who is losing her child even if he was a terrorist."
But she said she cannot understand the attack on her community and the killing of innocent people.
Mother used pinkie finger to stop baby crying
Shai Li Atari told the briefing of her own harrowing ordeal, during which she was forced to use her pinkie finger to pacify her one-month-old daughter while she hid from gunmen who attacked Kibbutz Kfar Aza.
Ms Atari said her husband Yahav Winner, a filmmaker, was killed as he fought off Hamas gunmen trying to enter their house through a bedroom window.
“He sacrificed his life for me and for our one-month-old daughter Shaya,” she said.
Mr Winner’s short film The Boy, about a father and son near Gaza facing incoming rocket fire, earned the best cinematography prize this year at a Tel Aviv film festival.
She said her husband had just woken her up to feed the baby when suddenly a “massive explosion started”.
“I asked him “Are we going to die?” and he said “we're not going to die today”.
The couple agreed Ms Atari would hold the baby and Mr Winner would hold the door.
When Mr Winner was shot dead, she said they “did not get a chance to say goodbye”.
Ms Atari, who is disabled, ran out of the house with the child in her arms.
“I hide behind trees and bushes and I could hear the voice [saying] 'Taal, taal' coming towards me,” she said, referring to the Arabic word for "come".
She said she walked several yards and hid inside a garden shed in her neighbour’s house while the baby slept in her arms. For hours, she lay behind a washing machine, with sandbags and pots covering her.
“I took my pinkie – this is what Yahav taught me in the hospital – that if you put it inside [the baby’s mouth], it is like a pacifier.”
As the baby began to wake up, she managed to hide in the laundry room before her neighbours let her in.
After a terrifying 27-hour ordeal, she was rescued by Israeli forces.
Ms Atari received the devastating news that her husband had been found by a neighbour, shot in the head.
"All our family is broken. It burns inside us. They slaughtered us like a flock of sheep," she said.
"I never thought I would have to live without Yahav. But when I look at this little beautiful baby, I remember what we agreed in the safe room ... 'you hold the door and I am with the baby'.”