Last updated: February 19. 2013 5:46PM - 237 Views

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A group of local residents touring Israel is safe but shaken after hearing explosions and warning sirens as Israel clashes with neighboring Palestinians.

The group was three days into an 11-day tour of Israel organized by Rabbi Larry Kaplan of Temple Israel, Wilkes-Barre and the Rev. Robert Zanicky of First Presbyterian Church, Wilkes-Barre, when Israel launched an air campaign against Hamas targets in Gaza on Wednesday.

The airstrikes continued on Thursday and on Friday Palestinian militants retaliated with rocket attacks on Jerusalem, where the group was touring at the time.

Zanicky sent an email to parish members Friday saying the group was safe.

The sirens sounding as we were walking to the Great Synagogue for Sabbath services was unnerving, he wrote. After hearing explosions in the distance, we thought it wise to return to the hotel.

Zanicky went on to write they had canceled plans to visit Jerusalem's holy sites today in favor of traveling to the Dead Sea and the ancient fortress of Masada, well outside Jerusalem.

Hopefully, we will visit our sacred sights on Sunday, Zanicky wrote. What stories I have for you upon our return!

Michele Makarewicz of Shavertown is one of those on the tour. Her daughter, Alex O'Connell of Forty Fort, said she has spoken with her mother several times since she arrived in Israel, including on Friday morning.

The group was rattled after there was an explosion in Jerusalem several blocks away from where they were standing in line outside a temple on Friday, according to O'Connell.

O'Connell said her mother and other guests were informed by their hotel of a bomb shelter in the basement where they should seek refuge if air raid sirens sound.

O'Connell said her mother is optimistic about the rest of her trip.

She sounded a little reserved but I think the purpose of the trip was very spiritual in nature for her, she said. So she didn't sound like she was going to let it damper her spirits. She was there for a spiritual journey; she's pretty determined to stick to that… She understands that we were nervous but she didn't seem all that upset.

O'Connell said the situation has been more trying for her.

It's strange to see things on the news and interpret them in your own situation, she said. I just don't feel like turning on the news.

The group arrived in Tel Aviv Nov. 10 and is scheduled to stay until Nov. 21.

Vivien G. Terzaghi, office manager for First Presbyterian Church, said she has received emails from Zanicky and Kaplan and received no indication they would cut the trip short.

She said she was forwarded an email from Kaplan earlier in the trip in which the rabbi he said the group was then safe in northern Israel, away from unfortunate events.

Kaplan said the group had no plans to go to the southern part of the country near Gaza, according to Terzaghi.

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