In first in 41 years, El Al to fly on Saturday to bring reservists back to Israel

Israel’s national carrier will fly back reserve soldiers from New York and Bangkok in emergency rescue flights as the IDF braces for a long war with the Hamas terror group

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Illustration: One of El Al's Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft arrives at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, August 23, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Illustration: One of El Al's Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft arrives at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, August 23, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

El Al Israel Airlines announced on Thursday that for the first time since 1982, it will fly on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, to bring back Israelis called up for emergency military reserve duty as well as security and rescue forces stranded abroad.

Israel’s national airline said it is preparing to operate flights this Saturday from the US and Asia to help bring back Israeli army reservists whose presence in the country is vital during the war with the Hamas terror group.

Reserve soldiers located abroad will be flying back on Saturday free of charge on two Boeing 787 aircraft leaving from New York and Bangkok. The cost of the flights will be borne by El Al and large US financial institutions, El Al said in a statement.

El Al said that the breach of its decades-long policy of not flying on the Jewish Sabbath has received halachic approval as the rescue flights are considered part of what is known in Hebrew as pikuah nefesh — the Jewish legal principle that saving a life trumps nearly all other religious requirements.

Israel has called up some 360,000 reserve soldiers — the largest mobilization since the 1973 Yom Kippur War when Israel called up 400,000 reservists — as the war with the Hamas entered its sixth day following the Palestinian terror group’s devastating assault on Israeli communities in an early morning infiltration by 1,500 gunmen on Saturday.

On Thursday, the IDF stepped up preparations for a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip to destroy the terror group as the death toll from Hamas’s onslaught passed 1,300 people, mostly civilians.

A salvo of rockets is fired by Palestinian terrorists from Gaza towards Israel on October 10, 2023. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Since Saturday, dozens of flights to and from Tel Aviv were canceled by major international airlines, stranding holiday tourists in Israel and leaving Israelis abroad scrambling for a way to return home.

The Knesset said earlier this week that it is preparing to extend $5 billion in wartime insurance guarantees to Israeli airlines, enabling carriers El Al, Arkia and Israir to continue repatriating Israelis from abroad, amid the widespread international flight cancellations to Israel.

Without the state-backed guarantee, Israeli carriers could lose their coverage within seven days of the October 7 outbreak of war, in line with the terms of their policy with Inbal Insurance Company Ltd.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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