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Residents Recall Tragedy: 'The Blast Occured as I Recited Shema'

Netanya residents recall Thursday night’s explosion that rocked a city building and killed four, including three young immigrants from France.
By Elad Benari & Yoni Kempinski
First Publish: 6/20/2011, 7:10 AM / Last Update: 6/20/2011, 2:48 PM

Residents of the city of Netanya, still shaken from Thursday night’s explosion that rocked a building in the city and killed four, recalled on Sunday their experiences of the explosion.

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Eric, a resident of the building which exploded, said: “On Thursday night I was reciting the Sh'ma before bedtime. At the same moment the explosion occurred. Everything shook, it was like an earthquake. There was dust everywhere. Everything was white. We were all in shock.”

He recalled that earlier in the day, “There was a gas leak, and we called the gas company several times. They said they would come and I don’t even know if they did anything. Look at the results. Everything was destroyed.”

Three of the four victims of the explosion were Rivka Masihid, age 17, Rivka Durai, age 18, and Stacey Brook, age 17. The three girls were olot (new immigrants) from France who had taken part in a Chabad program to hand out Shabbat candles to Netanya’s residents. After they finished handing out candles, the three girls had entered the coffee shop in the building shortly before the explosion.

“The French girls hand out candles every Thursday,” recalled Ada Hadad, a resident of the neighborhood. “They sat here, a few of the girls, half of them went to the coffee shop and the others didn’t want to come along with them. As the girls stepped towards the coffee shop, all of a sudden… boom! It was unbelievable.”

The fourth victim of the explosion was Mohammed Abu Ata, age 28, a resident of Wadi Ara. Police arrested two men in relation to the gas explosion, which injured 88 people. One of the men, Yisrael Daniel, is a technician with the PazGaz Gas Company, who police say inspected the building’s gas tanks mere hours before the deadly blast. Police interviewed his superiors as well.

The second man, Rami Gueta, was seen in the vicinity of the building and later arrested on suspicion of metal theft before the blast. He was initially released, but arrested again after the blast.

“There’s a big problem in Israel: the gas balloons all stand outside with no protection,” said Eric. “They should have put up a fence with a lock that no one can even put a finger in there, not that anyone can go in there and do what they want. Where’s the responsibility?”