Canadian flights evacuating citizens, permanent residents and their families from Israel began Thursday with two military planes carrying people from Tel Aviv to Athens.
The Canadian government has implemented an evacuation plan to retrieve Canadians stranded in Israel following devastating attacks by Hamas over the weekend, and amid escalating violence in the region as Israel strikes the Gaza Strip.
The flights are taking passengers to Athens, federal ministers said earlier in the week. An Air Canada flight leaving from Athens tomorrow is expected to bring Canadians to Toronto.
Senior government officials told reporters Thursday that around 5,000 people have registered with Ottawa as present in the region. The government says it has collected information from 1,600 people looking to leave the region, 800 of them in Israel. Not all of those people will be looking to fly out on military planes, the officials said.
Officials said Thursday they are also exploring other departure options for Canadians, including ground travel across the border to Jordan.
During an address in the Northwest Territories Thursday afternoon, Trudeau said the first flight carrying Canadians had landed safely in Athens.
A second flight landed in Athens on Thursday evening. More than 275 Canadian citizens, permanent residents or family members were expected to have left Israel by the end of the day.
We’re working tirelessly to assist Canadians in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. <br><br>I can confirm that the first <a href=”https://twitter.com/CanadianForces?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CanadianForces</a> evacuation flight has departed from Tel Aviv with approximately 130 passengers on board. <br><br>We will continue to be there for Canadians who need help.
Trudeau also said the government would be looking at other options to evacuate people who can’t reach the airport at Tel Aviv.
Trudeau said Canada will provide an additional $10 million in humanitarian aid for those in need in both Israel and Gaza.
The prime minister was asked multiple times about Israel’s military response to the Saturday attacks, which include air strikes and a blockade of Gaza. Trudeau continued to blame Hamas for the fallout.
“We need to continue to work with international communities and allies to try to find a way to protect all civilians through this,” he said. “But the choices Hamas has made make this more difficult than it would otherwise be.”
Canada’s Ambassador to Israel Lisa Stadelbauer spoke with CBC News at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. She said she anticipated the second flight would leave at roughly 9 p.m. local time.
She said around 116 Canadians were on board the first flight and she expected a similar number on the second.
“We’ll continue with the flights over the coming days, depending on demand. Right now, we have about one thousand people on our list who are looking for assistance,” Stadelbauer said.
“The thing that is most stressful is the uncertainty. My greatest hope is that a week from now, people will think this was totally unnecessary and they shouldn’t have left,” she said.
Airlines based in countries around the world have cut flights to and from Israel due to the violence in the region.
“The risk is still live and present,” Stadelbauer said.
Families have identified three Canadians killed in Israel. Senior officials told reporters Thursday that four Canadians are believed to be missing.
Israel says more than 1,200 people have been killed in Israel itself, while Gaza’s health authority says at least 1,100 people have died there since Saturday.
Hundreds of Canadians in Gaza and the West Bank have also registered with Global Affairs Canada. Mohammed Fayad, a Palestinian refugee in Canada whose children are still in Gaza, told CBC’s Power & Politics he’s hoping for help from the federal government to bring his children to safety.
Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, told host David Cochrane that Canada does not have access to Gaza, though the government remains in talks to establish humanitarian aid corridors into the area.
Senior officials said around 100 people in Gaza have identified themselves to GAC and are seeking help to leave the region.