Foreign Ministry sends planes to Australia, New Zealand for stranded Israelis

Authorities say 2,151 tourists who want to return will still be outside Israel as of Tuesday; flights from India, Thailand set to land at Ben-Gurion Airport

An illustrative photo of an El Al plane taking off from Ben Gurion Airport on September 3, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
An illustrative photo of an El Al plane taking off from Ben Gurion Airport on September 3, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

El Al has decided to operate two additional commercial flights — to New Zealand and Australia — to pick up Israeli tourists stranded abroad, the Foreign Ministry announced Monday.

“In these countries are the largest concentration of Israelis who are interested in returning home,” the ministry said.

In recent weeks, the ministry has cooperated with various airlines and foreign governments to bring thousands of Israeli nationals back to the country.

Two flights from India and Thailand carrying hundreds of Israelis were scheduled to land at Ben-Gurion Airport later Monday.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz attends a Likud party rally, ahead of the Israeli general elections, in the Northern Israeli town of Safed, February 24, 2020. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

“From the beginning of the coronavirus crisis the Foreign Ministry proved that it will make every effort to repatriate every Israeli who is interested in coming home,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said. “This is the central mission of our diplomats across the world, and of those who work in Israel.”

As of Tuesday, there would be 2,151 Israeli tourists interested in returning home who are stuck abroad, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Last week, the Foreign Ministry estimated that 1,000 to 1,500 Israelis who want to return had not yet been able to do so.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry explained the discrepancy by saying the 2,151 number was based on hard information while last week’s count had been an estimation. It also said additional Israelis have since contacted the ministry and said they want to return, adding to the tally. He said 114 were added on Sunday alone.

Meanwhile, British low-cost airline easyJet, which usually operates many flights to and from Israel, announced that it had “fully grounded its entire fleet of aircraft.”

Israeli tourists on board a Bolivian military plane en route to Brazil, March 26, 2020. (courtesy)

Four El Al flights earlier this month brought back some 1,100 Israelis from Peru, while several remaining backpackers who had originally not found room on the aircraft flew back via Germany and the Czech Republic last week.

Last week, Katz instructed his team to develop a “national emergency plan” to repatriate Israelis stuck abroad.

Previously, the Foreign Ministry in cooperation with El Al and two other Israeli airlines — Arkia and Israir — had organized nearly a dozen flights for Israelis stranded in Croatia, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Singapore, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Slovenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Australia.

Israeli officials continue to urge all Israelis who are abroad and want to come home to do so quickly while it is still possible.

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