The U.S. will start arranging evacuation charter flights for American citizens out of Israel beginning on Friday as the death toll of Americans from Hamas’ terrorist attacks continues to climb.
During a press briefing on Thursday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby announced that evacuation operations would start on October 13 “to provide transportation from Israel to sites in Europe” for American citizens and their immediate families.
“The president has asked his team to ensure that we are assisting U.S. citizens who do want to leave Israel and providing them with a safe means of doing that,” he said.
Sources familiar with the matter told The Associated Press the U.S. plans to send at least four charter flights daily.
“They’re still working through some of the details of that, to assist U.S. citizens and their immediate family members who have, for whatever reason, not been able to provide commercial transit out of the country,” Kirby added. “And I would add that we’re also exploring other options to expand the capacity of doing this, including exploring whether it’s possible to help Americans leave by land and by sea.”
On Saturday, Hamas launched a barbaric attack on Israel that has so far killed at least 1,300 people, including 27 Americans, and injured approximately 3,000 others. Another 14 Americans remain unaccounted for, according to reports.
“Sadly, five more families have now gotten the worst possible news that any family can conceive of getting. And we’re going to stay in touch with them as appropriate,” Kirby said. “Same goes for those family members of those who are unaccounted for — and by unaccounted for, we mean that. We don’t know where they are. They don’t know where they are.”
The White House claimed a “handful” of the Americans in the region were taken hostage by Hamas terrorists.
“So we’re going to obviously stay in touch with them as well,” Kirby also said. “And certainly we’re continuing to work with Israeli officials to make sure that we’re getting as much context and information as possible that we will share with them.”
According to the Associated Press, U.S. officials estimate between 160,000 and 170,000 Americans live in Israel, with an additional 500 and 600 in Gaza.
On Wednesday, a State Department spokesperson told Forbes that officials were exploring different options for evacuating citizens, including “by air, land, and sea to nearby countries” due to the demand for flights.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Israel on Thursday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and citizens.
Blinken reportedly viewed images depicting victims of the Hamas attack, saying, “So, images are worth a thousand words. These images may be worth a million.”
“It’s hard to find the right words. It’s beyond what anyone would ever want to imagine, much less, God forbid, experience,” he said at a press conference in Israel reported by ABC News. “A baby, an infant, riddled with bullets. Soldiers beheaded. Young people burned alive. I could go on, but it’s simply depravity in the worst imaginable way.”
Blinken traveled with Steve Gillen, deputy special representative for hostage affairs, who will reportedly stay in Israel to assist in rescuing the hostages.
The Americans missing or dead from the attack have not been identified by U.S. officials, but the New York Times reported among them are a mother and daughter from the greater Chicago area, a recent high school graduate from Long Island, and a young adult who was among the 260 people killed at the all-night outdoor music festival called Supernova, also described as a peace party, near Kibbutz Re’im close to the Gaza Strip on Saturday morning.