Israel rescues some 200 citizens and Jews from Ethiopia conflict region

Flights bring group to Addis Ababa, from where new immigrants will continue to Israel; PM: ‘Israel looks after its citizens wherever they are’

Israelis and Ethiopian Jews board flights from Gondar and Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa, part of the Israeli government rescue operation amid fighting in northern Ethiopia August 10, 2023. (Israel Embassy in Addis Ababa)
Israelis and Ethiopian Jews board flights from Gondar and Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa, part of the Israeli government rescue operation amid fighting in northern Ethiopia August 10, 2023. (Israel Embassy in Addis Ababa)

Israel extracted some 200 citizens and local Jews from conflict zones in Ethiopia Thursday, the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office announced, amid fighting in the African country’s northern Amhara region.

According to a joint statement, Israel rescued 174 Israelis and Ethiopians eligible to immigrate from the city of Gondar in Amhara, home to thousands of Ethiopians waiting for permission to move to Israel.

Another 30 Israelis were rescued from Amhara’s capital city of Bahir Dar.

Officials did not say how many of those extracted were citizens and how many were not.

Four flights brought the evacuees to Addis Ababa, from where those immigrating to Israel will travel on to the Jewish state. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said the Israelis will stay in the Ethiopian capital until deciding to return home or remain in the country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “Israel looks after its citizens wherever they are,” while thanking those involved for a “quick, silent and most importantly, successful” operation. He pledged that Israel will “warmly” welcome the new immigrants.

Cohen also hailed the rescue.

“The State of Israel will not stand by and will not leave a single Israeli behind,” he said.

“This is the result of successful cooperation and close coordination with the Prime Minister’s Office, the NSA and the Jewish Agency,” he added. “I am proud of the people of the Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in Ethiopia for their swift and high-quality action.”

Israelis and Ethiopian Jews board flights and buses from Gondar and Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa, part of the Israeli government rescue operation amid fighting in northern Ethiopia, August 10, 2023. (Israel Embassy in Addis Ababa)

Earlier this week, after a meeting with Cohen and other officials, Netanyahu instructed National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi to prepare the rescue operation.

During the operation, the Foreign Ministry’s situation room was expanded to include representatives from the Jewish Agency and IDF soldiers of Ethiopian descent who speak Amharic.

The operation came several days after a number of Israelis were reportedly rescued from the area. Last week, the Foreign Ministry urged Israelis in Amhara to remain at secure locations and try to maintain contact with the embassy in Addis Ababa, while calling on others to reconsider travel plans to the country.

It also came a day after the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry announced it would hold a protest Sunday outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem to call for the government to bring in greater numbers of Ethiopian Jews who are eligible to immigrate to Israel.

According to Ethiopia’s government and residents, the country’s military has recaptured several areas in Amhara from local militia fighters as details of dozens of civilian deaths began to emerge from the region amid an internet shutdown.

The military reclaimed control of six towns, including the regional capital, Bahir Dar, and Amhara’s second-largest town, Gondar, according to a government statement issued Wednesday night. The statement said a curfew was imposed in those areas but flights were set to resume.

The federal government declared a state of emergency in Amhara on Friday after regional authorities lost control and asked for help. The violence erupted over attempts by Ethiopia’s federal government to disband Amhara regional forces after the end of a two-year conflict in the neighboring Tigray region. Amhara forces and militia fought alongside Ethiopia’s military in that conflict.

Residents told The Associated Press there was fierce fighting between military personnel and militia members in Bahir Dar and Gondar until Tuesday. Around 20 civilians killed during clashes with the military were buried Monday in the Lideta area of Bahir Dar, a resident said.

Bahir Dar, Gondar and Lalibela were calm Thursday morning, with government troops in control, the residents said. In several areas, roadblocks were getting cleared from the streets.

An unidentified armed militia fighter walks down a path as villagers flee with their belongings in the other direction, near the village of Chenna Teklehaymanot, in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia, September 9, 2021. (AP Photo, File)

Analysts fear the Amhara militia, known as Fano, may continue its struggle in the countryside using guerrilla tactics.

The United States, the United Kingdom and other countries have advised their citizens not to travel to the Amhara region.

The violence is a blow to Ethiopia’s recovery from the Tigray conflict, which killed hundreds of thousands of people and spilled into the Amhara region, causing widespread damage.

Human Rights Watch has said the new state of emergency rules in Amhara, which include a prohibition on protests and increased powers of arrest, undermine basic rights.

Ethiopia’s National Dialogue Commission has called for peace, while Ezema, a main opposition party, criticized the government’s handling of the crisis.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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