The Canadian military has begun evacuating Canadian citizens and permanent residents from Israel, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday.
Speaking at a press conference in the Northwest Territories, Trudeau said the first Canadian Armed Forces flight out of Tel Aviv brought roughly 130 passengers to Athens, Greece. A second plane was set to take off from Israel later Thursday.
“The situation on the ground is volatile,” Trudeau said. He said the federal government is “working on additional options” to help Canadians who cannot reach the airport in Tel Aviv, including those trapped in Gaza.
Israel-Hamas conflict: 1st Canadian evacuation flight carrying 130 passengers arrives in Greece
Trudeau condemned the coordinated and deadly actions by Hamas, including the taking of hostages, and reiterated support for Israel’s right to defend itself in accordance with international law.
“Hamas is a terrorist organization that has brutally murdered innocent civilians, that has chosen to invade Israel, that has chosen to cause just horrific devastation,” said Trudeau.
“Hamas’ decision to take hostages, to take innocent hostages, and use them as pawns in a game of terror is absolutely unconscionable. And all of us must stand strongly against these horrific acts.”
Trudeau also announced the federal government will be providing $10 million in humanitarian aid to address “urgent needs” in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, where at least 2,600 people have been killed on all sides since last weekend’s attack by Hamas militants.
Israel-Hamas conflict: Canada to provide $10M of humanitarian aid, Trudeau announces
A government statement said the money will help provide water, food, emergency medical assistance, protection services and “other life-saving assistance.”
“We continue to look for ways to support civilians — both Palestinian and Israelis — and ensure that as many civilians as possible are kept safe during this terrible conflict,” Trudeau told reporters.
At least three Canadian citizens are among those killed in Israel, and the government says another four Canadians are believed to be missing in the conflict zone. Over 5,700 Canadian citizens and permanent residents are believed to be in Israel, with another 400 in the West Bank and Gaza.
Efforts to move Canadians out of Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv began Thursday, with two departures scheduled. Canada follows a number of other countries in working to evacuate citizens after a deadly Hamas attack on Saturday that has led to days of violence.
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The departures list at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport has two Canadian Air Force flights scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time.
A senior government official confirmed to Global News that 128 people were onboard the first flight, and 153 were on the second. The official added that 153 is seen as the plane being “at capacity.”
Two more flights are listed for Friday departures out of Ben Gurion, at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Flights from Tel Aviv to Athens are expected to take place twice a day. Government officials are reluctant to say how many flights there will be, saying this number is expected to shift depending on demand and availability of resources. They note that the amount of flights daily can increase if circumstances change.
According to the official, once Canadians or permanent residents get in touch with Global Affairs about needing assistance exiting Israel they are asked to provide information like their passport number and travel information for any family they are with. From there, government officials work to place them on a flight and contact evacuees once they have a spot on a CAF flight.
Canadian citizens are given priority in these situations, according to the official, due to extra immigration paperwork required to make arrangements for those with permanent resident status or non-citizen family members.
The official said the government is working to evacuate Canadians who are in the West Bank by ground to nearby Jordan.
Evacuations from Gaza, which remains sealed off from neighbouring states, are not possible at this time, the official added, but the government is in contact with those Canadians and is liaising with the United Nations and other international agencies to find solutions.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly had announced the CAF flights would begin flying out of Tel Aviv “in the coming days” on Wednesday morning. These CC-150 aircraft are intended to carry Canadians, permanent residents and their families.
The CAF flights will do a shuttle run between Tel Aviv and Athens. From there, Joly said Ottawa is working with Air Canada to bring these evacuees back to Canada.
Passengers on the Air Canada flights will pay out of pocket, though the government official said Ottawa is working to support passengers and secure accommodations. Evacuees will pay for their own accommodations in Athens.
The first Air Canada flight from Athens to Toronto is expected to depart on Friday afternoon.
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When asked about the timing of announcing these assisted departure flights, Joly said that this is a rare course of action and one not normally taken when commercial flights are still operational.
However, the government is initiating the assisted departure due to the high number of flight cancellations and delays, with few answers on when they will be rescheduled.
A Global News analysis found that approximately 53 per cent of scheduled flights are taking off from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
Canadians in Israel scrambling to get out as loved ones back in Calgary try to help
On Wednesday, Joly stressed that Canada is the first of the Five Eyes countries to begin assisted departures out of Israel. She said that Australia made a similar announcement after she first posted on X that Canada would begin evacuation flights on Tuesday evening.
The White House announced on Thursday that the U.S. government will begin operating evacuation flights as early as Friday to help Americans leave Israel for sites in Europe.
Britain will facilitate flights out of Israel to help its citizens leave the country, with the first such flight due to depart Tel Aviv later on Thursday, the foreign office said in a statement.
France will organize additional repatriation flights from Israel’s Tel Aviv airport on Friday and Saturday, the foreign ministry in Paris said in a statement.
“We are working with Air France to allow for a resumption of its commercial flights as soon as possible,” the statement said.
— with files from Reuters.