Three airplanes took off from Gondar to Addis Ababa on Thursday afternoon to rescue Israeli expats and Ethiopian citizens eligible for laiyah from the war-torn country.
Among the more than 150 passengers were Israeli citizens who had visited the area, Jewish Agency staff and participants, including volunteers from the organization's Project TEN, and around 50 eligible immigrants who are expected to immigrate to Israel soon.
The operation comes as violent clashes arose between the Ethiopian Army and the FANO militia in the Amhara province, trapping some 150 Israelis.
The flights were organized by the Prime Minister's Office in collaboration with The Jewish Agency. The complex rescue efforts from Gondar to Addis Ababa were led by Jewish Agency security officer, Mamush Marsha together with a representative of the Israeli embassy and Jewish Agency security officers. The Project TEN volunteers and Jewish Agency personnel who will arrive in Addis Ababa will later proceed to Israel.
What will happen to those eligible for aliyah?
Those eligible for aliyah will be taken care of by The Jewish Agency’s team in Addis Ababa, led by Adana Tadela, in cooperation with the Israeli embassy in Ethiopia, who will attend to all of their needs until the necessary procedures are finalized and they board their flight to Israel.
"After some tense days, the Jewish Agency, along with the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Israeli Embassy in Ethiopia, the National Security Council, and the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, carried out a courageous operation to rescue those under siege in Gondar," said Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Major General (Res.) Doron Almog. "Jewish Agency personnel were on the ground from the very beginning. They worked together with teams in Israel to guide and ensure the safety of the Jews staying in Gondar, including the seven Jewish Agency volunteers at our Project TEN center.
"Now our staff will support and embrace the rescued individuals with care and sensitivity. We initiated this rescue operation as part of our shared commitment and strong dedication to our people. We won't break our promise; we won't abandon any Jew who needs our help on the ground."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the arrival of the airplanes that “the State of Israel is committed to the well-being of all its citizens, regardless of their circumstances. In recent days, Israeli citizens and individuals in the process of Aliyah found themselves in distress within conflict zones in Ethiopia. I gave the directive for their safe evacuation from those areas.”
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen remarked: "The State of Israel is unwavering in its commitment to leave no Israeli behind. This outcome stands as a testament to the effective collaboration and close coordination among the Prime Minister's Office, the Jewish Agency, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
Minister of Aliyah and Integration Ofir Sofer, stated on Thursday: "Congratulations on the successful rescue of Israelis and individuals eligible for aliyah under the Law of Return.
"I extend a warm welcome to the rescue of both Israeli citizens and the majority of immigrants who are eligible to return under the Law, from Gonder to Addis. This will facilitate their subsequent transportation to Israel. Upon their arrival, we will prioritize ensuring the immigrants' smooth transition and provide assistance with all their needs to facilitate their adjustment," Sofer said.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that a number of the volunteers of Project TEN, young Israeli women, have decided to stay in Addis and continue volunteering with the Jewish community, even though they had the opportunity to join one of the rescue flights.
Ethiopia's military has pushed local militiamen out of two towns in the Amhara region, residents said on Wednesday, in its first big battlefield breakthroughs since fighting erupted last week.
The Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) gained control on Tuesday of the center of Gondar, Amhara's second-biggest city, and entered the holy town of Lalibela on Wednesday after militiamen left, the residents said.
Ethiopian Airlines ETHA.UL, meanwhile, announced that flights to Gondar and Amhara's capital, Bahir Dar - where fighting has also occurred - would resume on Thursday.
Gondar and Lalibela were among the towns where the Fano militia overran the ENDF last week in Ethiopia's most serious security crisis since a two-year civil war in the northern Tigray region ended last November.
The part-time militia draws volunteers from the local Amhara population. It was an ally of the ENDF during the Tigray war but the relationship later deteriorated over accusations the federal government was trying to weaken Amhara's defenses against neighboring regions, which the government denies.
The government of Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country and one of its biggest economies, declared a state of emergency on Friday and rushed soldiers to the frontlines.
Spokespeople for the government and military did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.