Nine Israelis who had been stranded in an area of northern Ethiopia that has transformed into a war zone have been safely evacuated, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
“The Israelis were rescued from the battle zones in Tigray in a complex rescue operation conducted by the Foreign Ministry in cooperation with the Ethiopian government and the local army, the United Nations and the international aid organizations in the area,” the ministry said.
Five were employees of the Netafim and Baran companies who were working on irrigation projects, and were rescued by the Ethiopian army. The other four were volunteers with CultivAid, an Israeli agricultural and water development non-profit group, and were extracted by a UN rescue convoy.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke with his Ethiopian counterpart last Friday and asked him to make sure that the Israelis were retrieved from the combat zone and looked after.
The ministry said it was in constant contact with the families of the Israelis throughout the operation. It did not say when, or whether, the Israelis were planning on returning home.
Last week the fighting claimed its first victim from Gondar’s Jewish community, Girmew Gete, 36. He was killed in the border area between Tigray and Amhara, which is disputed by the two neighboring regions.
Gete had been waiting with his family to immigrate to Israel for 24 years and is survived by his partner and their four-year-old daughter.
His death prompted calls from campaigners for Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyahu to immediately airlift the community to Israel.
Up to 14,000 people with Jewish roots are waiting to come to Israel, the vast majority having left their villages years ago to eke out livings near the Jewish community centers in Gondar City and Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia’s prime minister on Tuesday declared “the final and crucial” military operation will launch in the coming days against the government of the country’s rebellious northern Tigray region.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in a social media post said a three-day deadline given to the Tigray region’s leaders and special forces “has expired today.”
“We are marching to Mekele to capture those criminal elements,” Ethiopia’s minister in charge of democratization, Zadig Abraha, added in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “This will be a very brief operation.” Mekele, he said, will be the final stage.
Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, continues to reject international pleas for dialogue and de-escalation in the two-week conflict in the Horn of Africa that has spilled into neighboring Eritrea and sent more than 27,000 frightened Ethiopian refugees pouring into Sudan.
Alarmed African neighbors, including Uganda and Kenya, are calling for a peaceful resolution, but Abiy’s government regards the Tigray regional government as illegal after it defiantly held a local election in September. The Tigray regional government objects to the postponement of national elections until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and considers Abiy’s federal government illegal, saying its mandate has expired.