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Govt in talks with Australia to evacuate Cook Islanders, if situation deteriorates

Thursday 12 October 2023 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Economy, National, Travel


Govt in talks with Australia to evacuate Cook Islanders, if situation deteriorates
The remaining 28 Cook Islands residents sheltering in Jericho are expected to fly out on Friday (Israel time). Hannah Rosenberg/23101105.

The Cook Islands government is in talks with Australia to evacuate 28 Cook Islanders and residents sheltering in Jericho if the Israeli-Hamas conflict escalates further. Rashneel Kumar and Losirene Lacanivalu report.

The remaining 28 who were part of the Cook Islands group visiting Jerusalem to observe the Feast of the Tabernacle are scheduled to leave Israel today (Cook Islands time).

However, dozens of flights to and from Tel Aviv have been cancelled by major airlines as the Israeli-Hamas conflict, which started after the Palestinian terror group launched a large-scale deadly attack on Saturday, rages on.

A group of 20 Cook Islanders managed to fly out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport earlier this week and are now in Dubai. They are expected to return home this weekend.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said they are in touch with the remaining residents and hope they will successfully make it out of Israel later today.

Read more:

 > Cook Islanders in Israel: ‘We are safe and well’

> Cook Islanders on their way home: Remaining 28 to depart Israel on Friday

“Our Foreign Affairs team is in contact with the team (in Israel) and as of this stage, they are looking at their schedule flight leaving on Friday (Israel time) out of Te Aviv,” Brown told Cook Islands News in an interview at his office yesterday.

“But there is a contingency in event things deteriorate. Australia have offered assistance through their mission if we require evacuations sooner of our citizens so we are keeping an eye on the situation there and taking information from the ground to see if there is an opportunity for them to get out earlier.”

Cook Islanders who are sheltering in Jericho are confident of making it out of Israel on their scheduled flight.

Hannah Rosenberg, a tour guide looking after the Cook Islands group in Israel, told Cook Islands News: “Everything is minute by minute. They are doing well. They are in a safe place with good spirits.”

Rarotonga resident Luse Gukisuva, speaking to the newspaper at around midnight Thursday (Israel time), said that they were all fine and in good spirits.

Gukisuva said: “We’re coming back on Friday.”

In acknowledging families and friends for their continued support, she said: “We just want to remind our families and friends that we are in good hands. God has brought us here and He will bring us back home safely. Thank you for all your prayers.”

A family member of a Rarotonga resident who is in Jericho said she has been in touch with her aunt and that they were safe and just being careful.

“They’re ok... it is just when the sirens go off, they go down into the bomb shelter. But they are fine. Haven’t really felt or heard much. Just that they need to be careful.”

According to The New York Times, American Airlines, Air France, Lufthansa, Emirates, and Ryanair were among those pulling flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport following the attack on Saturday.

However, airport authorities did not stop commercial air links with Israel’s second international airport at Eilat, a tourist destination on the Red Sea.

And Israeli flag carrier El Al said Sunday that it was maintaining its Tel Aviv flights for now, though some flights operated by foreign partners had been cancelled.

Meanwhile, Israel continues to pound Gaza in retaliation for the Hamas attack over the weekend. The Palestinian health ministry says 1200 people have died since Israel started airstrikes in the area.

The toll on both sides now stands at almost 2500.

Earlier, the Israel Defense Forces said that 1200 Israelis had been massacred by Hamas gunmen over the weekend with the death toll expected to rise.