US scrambles charter flights to get Americans out of Israel

For Americans in Gaza, John Kirby said the US has ‘no physical means’ of getting them out at the moment

Rachel Sharp
Friday 13 October 2023 13:14 BST
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Antony Blinken embraces music festival attack survivor during visit to Israeli donation centre

The US is scrambling evacuation flights to get American citizens out of Israel as the war with Hamas continues to escalate.

The State Department is arranging charter flights starting from Friday for US citizens and their immediate family members who have been unable to book commercial flights and are seeking to leave Israel.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby announced the plans in a press conference on Thursday, saying that evacuees will be flown from Israel to Europe.

From Europe, Americans will be expected to make their own onward travel arrangements.

Mr Kirby said the Biden administration is “still working through some of the details” of how many flights are needed and how many will be arranged.

“We’re exploring other options, whether it’s possible to help Americans leave by land and sea,” he said.

It is also currently unclear if the charter flights will be free of charge.

Any American citizens seeking to leave Israel are urged to complete an intake form on the State Department website.

President Joe Biden had faced calls from both Democrats and Republicans to launch charter flights and potential military flights to evacuate Americans.

A group of lawmakers sent a letter urging the president to act to help constituents overseas who are now in “fear for their lives”.

“As the number of casualties continues to rise, our constituents who remain in Israel fear for their lives,” they said.

“We ask that you consider charter flights and military options for evacuation, simultaneously.”

Antony Blinken embraces music festival terror attack survivor during visit to Israeli donation centre
Antony Blinken embraces music festival terror attack survivor during visit to Israeli donation centre (US Pool)

The situation for Americans seeking to leave was made more complicated this week when several US commercial airlines stopped service to Tel Aviv in the wake of the violence this week.

American Airlines announced it was cancelling all flights to and from Tel Aviv through to December, United Airlines cancelled flights indefinitely and Delta Air Lines axed flights at least until the end of the month.

Mr Kirby said that the Biden administration does not have “hard figures” on how many Americans are currently in Israel and how many of those would like to leave.

However, at least 27 American citizens have been killed, while 14 are believed to have been kidnapped since the violence began.

In what marked a surprise attack, Hamas militants stormed across the Gaza border into Israel on Saturday morning, killing, kidnapping and injuring civilians.

The Israeli military has said that more than 1,300 people were killed in the attacks.

An unknown number of people have also been kidnapped and are being held hostage back in Gaza, with their desperate family members begging for them to come home safely.

Israel has responded to the Hamas attacks by pummeling Gaza with retaliatory air strikes which have killed at least 1,500 Palestinians, including hundreds of children, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

Israel also ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, cutting off supplies of electricity, water, food and fuel and sparking fears of an escalating humanitarian crisis.

Neighbourhoods in the Gaza Strip have suffered from Israeli airstrikes
Neighbourhoods in the Gaza Strip have suffered from Israeli airstrikes (REUTERS)

For Americans in Gaza, Mr Kirby said on Thursday that the US has “no physical means of getting that travel out” at this moment in time.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken travelled to Tel Aviv on Thursday to meet his Israeli counterparts and pledge the US’s commitment to support the allied nation amid the ongoing violence.

During the visit, the US’s top diplomat reinforced Mr Biden’s stance that the US is firmly standing with Israel, saying that the administration will work “quickly and swiftly with Congress” to support Tel Aviv as its needs evolve.

“I came to Israel bearing a simple message. The US stands with Israel and with its people today, tomorrow, every day,” he said.

During his visit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office posted distressing photos of some of the infant victims killed in the Hamas attack on social media and said that they had shared them with the US secretary of state.

The graphic images showed the bodies of what appeared to be three babies. Two of them were burned beyond recognition; the third image was blurred but showed blood-stained clothes on the infant.

In a solemn moment at a press conference on Thursday, Mr Blinken told reporters that what he had seen “defies comprehension” and is “simply depravity in the worst imaginable way”.

“We did see photos, videos that the Israeli government shared with us. Some I think have actually already been seen in public media. Others were new to me and I think new to our team,” he said.

“It’s hard to find the right words. It’s beyond what anyone would ever want to imagine, much less actually see and, god forbid, experience.”

He added: “Images are worth a thousand words, these images may be worth a million.”

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is travelling to Israel to meet with Mr Netanyahou and other Israeli leaders on Friday

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