Repatriation flights to get Aussies out of Israel after Hamas attack

Australians stuck in Israel will be able to board repatriation flights as early as this week, amid concerns the window to exit via Tel Aviv is closing.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced on Wednesday that the repatriation flights run by Qantas will begin leaving Israel on Friday.

“We understand that many Australians are experiencing difficulties with delays and cancellations with commercial flights,” Mr Albanese said in a press conference on Wednesday.

“For Australians who do not already have plans to leave through commercial options, Australian government-assisted departure flights will depart from Friday.”

Two Qantas flights from Israel to London have already been organised according to the Prime Minister, with more to come.

“We have been working on these contingencies over recent times and will continue to do so across the range of issues as a result of the appalling and abhorrent attacks by Hamas that we saw on the weekend,” he said.

Australians who wish to leave on assisted departure sites must register with the Australian government‘s 24-hour consular emergency service.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was directed by minister Penny Wong to commence planning for assisted-departure flights on Monday night, according to government sources.

Transport Minister Catherine King spoke with the chief executives of Virgin and Qantas to ask them to work with DFAT on options for repatriation flights.

Neither airline currently operates flights to Israel.

More than 1,000 people are reported to have been killed in Hamas attacks, and another 900 killed in retaliatory strikes into Gaza by Israel in the days since.

Mr Albanese said that the government wasn’t sure how many Australians had been impacted by the conflict.

“There are so many Australians in the area, that it’s not completely clear how many are there, let alone how many are unaccounted for,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said the government was looking at “all options” to get Australians home safe.

“A number of airlines, a number of international airlines, are cancelling flights. And so, if you like, the avenue of travel is closing, hasn’t closed, but it is more difficult,” he told Melbourne’s 3AW.

“And in that context, we absolutely understand that there will be Australians … who will want assistance and we’re actively working on all of that as we speak.”

It comes as the Prime Minister is under pressure to confirm whether a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) had been convened in the wake of the conflict.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton said Anthony Albanese didn’t have a “coherent reason” as to why the meeting hadn’t been called, given the recent display of anti-Semitic behaviour at a pro-Palestine rally in Sydney.

Mr Albanese hit back at Mr Dutton’s criticism, saying he would not talk about the NSC but that his government “has had every single one of the appropriate meetings forums, discussions, briefings”.

“I‘m stunned that somehow people think that it’s an appropriate political issue to try to secure some advantage, I find Mr Dutton’s comments, I think they speak for themselves,” he said.

“The way that I deal with National Security Committee and national security issues is to take them seriously…We don‘t foreshadow when NSC meets, we don’t produce the minutes of NSC.

“That’s the way that national security, diplomacy and intelligence should work, not as a political game.”

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil would not say when asked by Sky News on Wednesday afternoon.

“I will say that I‘ve been briefed every day by security officials, the Prime Minister’s been briefed every day by security officials, on the way that the Australian government is responding to this,” she said.

“Peter Dutton would know as a former Home Affairs Minister but we are lucky to have some of the most professional security agencies in the world.

“I take their advice on how to manage these issues, not the leader of the opposition.”

But she did confirm the national co-ordination mechanism (NCM) had been triggered in response to the conflict.

The NCM is the same Australia uses in response to a flood or a fire and brings together departments at a state and commonwealth level.

It was last triggered during the high-profile Optus data breach last year. Ms O’Neil said it is the first time it had been activated during such an event.

Earlier on Wednesday, the first Australian victim murdered in Hamas was confirmed to be 66-year-old Galit Carbone, who was killed outside her home in a kibbutz 5km from the Gaza Strip.

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