Argentina is launching an airlift to evacuate its citizens from Israel, four days after terror group Hamas attacked Israel, killing hundreds of Israelis, wounding thousands more, and spurring a war that could be long-lasting.
Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero said on Tuesday that more than 713 requests had been received on a hotline opened on Saturday, the day of the attack, for Argentinian citizens to request repatriation
The “Safe Return” program will allow up to 625 people to leave the country. A military Hercules airplane and a Boeing jet will be deployed first to Cyprus and then to Tel Aviv. On Thursday, three flights will take off from Tel Aviv to Rome, each carrying about 200 people.
“There are people who were there for tourism, for work, for studies and others who have been living for a long time,” Cafiero told the national news agency Telam.
The war started when Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel after breaching the Gaza Strip border fence and rampaged murderously for hours, slaughtering several hundred civilians in a series of border towns and communities.
The death toll in Israel from the attack and subsequent battles rose to 1,200 by Wednesday, according to reports. Over 500 people remained hospitalized, many with life-threatening injuries, and over 2,900 have been injured since Saturday.
The terrorists also kidnapped about 150 men, women and children and brutally dragged them into Gaza before the army was able to engage the attackers. Hamas also launched over 5,000 rockets at Israel and has continued to bombard southern and central areas, causing more deaths and injuries. One rocket landed near Ben Gurion International Airport, the country’s main airfield.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says over 900 people in the Palestinian enclave have been killed in retaliatory Israeli strikes. Israel says it is targeting terrorist infrastructure and all areas where Hamas operates or hides out.
Israel has fought previous bouts with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. However, this time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have pledged to ensure Hamas can never again muster the capacity to harm Israel, stating that the terror group’s demise is critical to Israel’s future. The IDF has massed troops, calling up over 300,000 reservists and the expectation is that fighting could continue for the foreseeable future.
So far, most people in Israel who wish to leave are on their own, and many flights have been canceled, making it hard to get out.
The decision to evacuate expatriates, which tends to be made in only the most extreme and dangerous circumstances, reflects a growing realization that the war launched in response to the attack could be long and grueling. Argentina is not the only country to send planes to retrieve its citizens; Poland and Australia, for example, have said they would evacuate citizens who want to exit the country. Canada plans to announce an evacuation effort, using military planes and with special provisions for people who cannot safely get to Israel’s international airport, on Wednesday.
The airlift by Argentina — home to an estimated 180,000 Jews, the sixth-largest Jewish population in the world — is especially notable because until this week, the country held the ignominious record of being the site of the worst terrorist attack on Jews since the Holocaust. Eighty-five people died in the 1994 bombing of the headquarters of AMIA, Buenos Aires’ Jewish community center, which like the Hamas attack is widely understood to have been carried out in collaboration with Iran. Tehran welcome the devastating Saturday assault, but has denied involvement.
Jorge Knoblovits, president of DAIA, Argentina’s Jewish umbrella organization, decried Hamas during a massive rally in Buenos Aires, outside a Jewish community center at the corner of Avenue Estado de Israel and Avenue Estado de Palestina. The group, he said, aimed to destroy not only Israel “but all of us, all Jews, anywhere in the world.”
The demonstration, one of dozens that have taken place around the world in support of Israel this week, occupied two full blocks and drew prominent figures including the US ambassador, the city mayor and Patricia Bullrich, a candidate for president in this month’s election. Moshe and Sara Korin, whose son Abi has not been heard from since the attack on his kibbutz, also appeared at the rally.
A number of Argentinian expatriates were killed in the Hamas attack, all on kibbutzim in Israel’s south that were popular destinations for South Americans who moved to Israel. According to the Foreign Ministry’s latest data, Argentina has confirmed seven deaths among its citizens and 15 remain missing.