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Families of diplomats and of embassy workers are coming home

As Ukraine war looms, PM and Lapid hold urgent Shabbat talks on evacuating Israelis

Top officials take part in discussions as threat of Russian invasion grows; embassy staff will be reinforced to boost consular services for Israelis wishing to leave country

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 14, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 14, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held an emergency meeting with top security and diplomatic officials Saturday due to the growing fears of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The office of the religious Bennett said the meeting on the Jewish day of rest was held “to expedite preparations to evacuate Israelis from the country” if need be.

The meeting was attended by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata and others. Another meeting was expected later in the day.

Israel has warned citizens to consider leaving the country, but has not yet instructed them to depart immediately as other nations, including the US, have done.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry has said it has begun working in an emergency capacity. Though embassy staff’s families and diplomats’ families are being evacuated for their safety, the embassy itself will continue to operate and will even be reinforced with additional staff from Israel to boost consular services for Israelis wishing to leave the country.

Some 15,000 Israelis are thought to be in Ukraine. Only 4,000 have so far registered with the Foreign Ministry to allow contact in case of crisis.

The building housing Israel’s embassy in Kyiv (Tohaomg / Wikipedia)

On Friday, the Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning for Ukraine, urging Israelis currently in the country to consider leaving and “in any case to avoid approaching centers of tension.” Israelis planning on traveling to Ukraine should reconsider, the ministry added.

The Foreign Ministry statement, which cited the “worsening of the situation” in Ukraine, did not name Russia or cite the prospect of a Russian invasion.

But a senior Israeli official told the Walla news site that the Foreign Ministry issued the travel warning and decided on the evacuations because Russia now has enough forces on Ukraine’s borders to invade.

“The Russians began a military exercise in Belarus that may soon become an offensive against Ukraine,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying.

A Ukrainian serviceman walks through a trench on the front line in the Luhansk area, eastern Ukraine, on January 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

US President Joe Biden was set to speak to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday, as White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters an attack “could occur any day now.”

The UK Jewish News reported Friday that Jewish charities were readying plans to evacuate Ukrainian Jews in case war breaks out.

According to a newspaper report last month, some 75,000 people living in eastern Ukraine are believed eligible for Israeli citizenship.

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