Amid fury of Israel-Hamas war, U.S. plans Israel evacuation flights for Americans starting Friday

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Americans who haven’t been able to evacuate from Israel since the deadly terrorist attacks by Hamas will get some help starting Friday, the U.S. State Department announced. The U.S. government will start arranging charter flights and passage on ships for U.S. citizens who haven’t been able to find a way out of Israel through commercial means.

Since Hamas militants attacked Israeli communities on Saturday, spurring retaliatory airstrikes by Israel on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, major U.S. airlines have suspended flights to the country.

When do the Israel evacuation flights start?

The U.S. government will begin the transport for Americans and their immediate family members on Friday, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement Thursday. People needing assistance were urged to fill out a form.

According to a State Department notice, the charter flights will be to Athens, Greece or Frankfurt, Germany. The voyages by sea will be from Haifa, Israel, on the Mediterranean coast, to the country of Cyprus. People won’t be able to choose where they go — they’ll be assigned to the next available ride out.

Once they arrive, they will then be able to make arrangements to travel on to their desired destination, Miller said.

According to the notice, travelers need to be prepared to leave within 8 to 12 hours of receiving their booking. Each person can only bring one suitcase weighing up to 35 pounds and one carry-on item up to 22 pounds. Pets won’t be allowed on the trips, and travelers will have to pay the government back.

The State Department expected the assistance to help thousands of U.S. citizens per week.

“The overall security situation, availability and reliability of commercial transportation, and U.S. citizen demand will all influence the duration of this departure assistance,” Miller said.

The travel options would be expanded “in the coming days,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, some airlines have been adding flights to Athens to help people flying between Israel and the U.S.

Has the State Department updated its travel advisory for Israel?

In a travel advisory Thursday, the State Department urged Americans to reconsider travel to Israel as well as the Palestinian territory of the West Bank in the wake of the Hamas attack.

“Terrorist groups, lone-actor terrorists and other violent extremists continue plotting possible attacks,” the advisory says.

For Gaza, officials had a more serious warning: “Do not travel.”

“The U.S. government is unable to provide routine or emergency services to U.S. citizens in Gaza as U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling there,” the State Department says. “Hamas, a U.S. government-designated foreign terrorist organization, controls the security infrastructure in Gaza. The security environment within Gaza and on its borders is dangerous and volatile.” 

Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade since Hamas gained control in 2007. This week Israel imposed what it called a “complete siege” on Gaza, cutting off the flow of water, electricity and fuel to the territory as airstrikes pounded the Hamas stronghold.

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