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Israel-Hamas war: Fijian Government carries out first ever rescue operation to get countrymen home

Paridhi Bakshi

Fijian nationals flown out of Israel on emergency repatriation flight

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

The Fijian Government has moved to bring home more than 200 Fijian nationals and members of the Pacific community from Israel after a deadly Hamas attack over the weekend.

The Pacific nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs successfully organised a repatriation flight using Fiji Airlines to get 198 Fijians and 48 Pacific international pilgrims out of Israel.

Included in the repatriation were 13 students from Navuso Agriculture College who had just started their studies in Israel before the conflict started.

The repatriation flight - FJ2394 - arrived at Nadi International Airport in the early hours of this morning.

Prime Minister of Fiji Sitiveni Rabuka welcomed the civilians at the airport, where there were emotional reunions with loved ones.

On the successful rescue celebration, Rabuka said: “Today, with your safe return, I want to make clear our condemnation of the terrorist attack by Hamas which targeted innocent non-combatants and resulted in the continuing loss of life.

“We also stand with Israel which has the right to defend itself and its people.”

A traditional welcome ceremony was performed in the presence of senior officials from the foreign affairs ministry.

Rabuka also expressed his gratitude towards Fiji Airways for executing the historic mission in an uncertain situation.

“Fiji Airways was able to fly this A330 into the Ben Gurion International Airport (under the protection of Israel’s iron Dome) on October 10 with a turnaround time of only two hours and whisk our people to safety.

“I stand with all the Fijians to commend the valour, sacrifice and tireless efforts of all who organised the daring but well-planned and executed repatriation of our fellow citizens and pilgrims possible, amidst the ongoing strife in Israel.”

NZ-based church members helped by Tongan officials

Members of the New Zealand Tongan Ethnic Youth church group in Israel October 2023 Photo / Pesi Sikalu

Fiji’s move to help its countrymen out of Israel comes after Tongan officials moved to help a large New Zealand-based church group who arrived in Jerusalem on a Christian Holy Lands tour days before the attack.

Pesi Sikalu, a member of the Connection City Church Assemblies of God, told the Herald yesterday that they had received good news - that their Turkish Airlines flight that was initially cancelled was now back on.

The Tongan Government also sent its consul representative to be with the group, she revealed.

“He will travel with us all the way back to New Zealand to ensure our safe arrival and has assured us that there are contingency plans in place in case anything happens - and that Tonga is willing to cover any costs if that’s the case.”

The group was due on a flight today.

Sikalu approached the Herald after they did not hear any updates from their airline or NZ’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mfat has since been in touch with the group.

Hero image: Fijian nationals on board a Fijian Airways repatriation flight out of Israel. Photo / Kelepi Abariga

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