US to offer citizens charter flights from Israel; Biden meets advisers over security risks to US homeland

US to offer citizens charter flights from Israel; Biden meets advisers over security risks to US homeland
Israeli Iron Dome defence intercepts missiles launched from the Gaza Strip on 11 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Mohammed Saber)

The US government would provide charter flights beginning on Friday for US citizens and their immediate families seeking to depart Israel, the White House said. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden met national security officials on ways to protect the US homeland in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks in Israel.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is in Tel Aviv, said he would travel to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other allied nations in the Middle East as part of US efforts to keep the Israel-Hamas conflict from spreading further.

Israel carried out air strikes on the main airports in Damascus and Aleppo on Thursday afternoon, putting them out of service, Syria’s state-run news agency Sana said. Israel hasn’t confirmed the report.

Israeli jets hit more targets in Gaza as the nation vowed to wipe out Iran-backed Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist group by the US and EU.

Latest developments

Biden meets advisers on risks to US homeland 

President Joe Biden met with national security officials including Attorney-General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray to discuss efforts to protect the US homeland after the Hamas attacks in Israel.

The group examined efforts to safeguard “the people of the United States, including Jewish, Arab and Muslim communities”, the White House said. Earlier in the week, the White House said it requested state and local law enforcement to step up patrols of Jewish religious and community centres over concerns that the violence in Israel could be mirrored.

US to offer charter flights from Israel as death toll rises  

The US government would launch charter flights beginning on Friday to provide transportation for US citizens and their immediate families seeking to depart Israel, the White House said.

In addition to flights to Europe, the US is examining land and sea evacuations for Americans seeking to leave. The administration doesn’t currently have an estimate of how many US citizens are seeking to leave, but those in Israel who want assistance with evacuation can fill out an intake form on the State Department website.

The move comes as the confirmed death toll of US citizens killed in the Hamas attack on Israel over the weekend has risen to 27, while 14 Americans remain missing, the White House said.

Two wounded in shooting attack at Jerusalem police station

An attacker with a submachine gun opened fire on police officers at the entrance to a Jerusalem police station, a police spokesperson said. Two police officers were injured, one seriously. The attacker was “neutralised”, the spokesperson said.

Israel moves to provide war-risk insurance for airlines

Israel’s parliamentary finance committee approved a $6-billion government guarantee to back war-risk insurance for Israeli airlines. Due to the outbreak of war, companies that insure Israeli airlines are entitled to cancel their insurance policies within seven days of notification. The government guarantee would allow a state-owned insurer to cover the airlines if their policies are cancelled.

The committee members asked the government to consider insurance assistance for any foreign airlines that are interested in continuing to fly to Israel.

Israel crisis punctuates DC political paralysis

Washington legislators’ demands for a forceful US response to the Hamas attacks are colliding with the bitterly split House Republican caucus, according to Henrietta Treyz, director of economic policy research at Veda Partners. Senators are working on a bipartisan condemnation of Hamas, she said, but the House is paralysed as the GOP struggles to settle on a successor to Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s backing for Israel is unfolding across two dimensions, Treyz said. First, there’s the rush to send additional arms. In the longer term, the White House’s positioning creates leeway to urge restraint later if an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza proves as brutal as expected, she said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s Surveillance.

UK to send two ships to Middle East, says Times  

Britain will send two Royal Navy ships to the eastern Mediterranean and begin surveillance flights over Israel in a show of support, The Times of London reported.

Blinken expands Middle East trip to include other allied nations 

Blinken said he would travel to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other allied nations in the Middle East as part of US efforts to keep the Israel-Hamas conflict from spreading further.

Addressing reporters in Tel Aviv, Blinken said he would visit Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Qatar. He arrived in Israel early on Thursday on a trip to demonstrate US support for Israel and get other nations on board. Blinken also said the US reserved the right to reimpose a freeze on $6-billion in Iranian funds, but stopped short of saying it would take that action.

China has its first talk with Israel since war began 

China made its first public contact with Israel since last weekend’s attack by Hamas, hours after the Israeli ambassador called on Beijing to engage in talks about the conflict. Zhai Jun, China’s special envoy on Middle East issues, said the country condemned actions that lead to the death of civilians, according to a Foreign Ministry statement on his call with an Israeli foreign ministry official.

China was also willing to work with the international community toward peace talks, it said. Earlier on Thursday, Irit Ben-Abba, Israel’s ambassador to China, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television that “we really hope China can be much more involved in talking to its close partners in the Middle East and particularly Iran”.

Israel Defence Force chief says military failed to protect country 

Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said the military had failed in its duty to protect the country and its citizens. He pledged to investigate the failure after the war.

He also said that Yehya Sinwar, who heads Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement, authorised the attack on Israel and that he and those who served under him were “marked for death”.

Palestinian leader Abbas demands end to attacks  

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas demanded an immediate end to what he called the “comprehensive aggression against our people”, and appealed for humanitarian aid and corridors to Egypt.

In a statement before talks set for Friday with Blinken, Abbas blamed “both sides” in the conflict for killing civilians, a position that’s likely to win little support from Israel’s allies.

Abbas is based in the West Bank. He and the PA have little authority in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas.

White House, DeSantis assail Trump’s remarks on attack in Israel 

Donald Trump drew criticism from the White House and Republican presidential rival Ron DeSantis over comments criticising Israel days after the deadly attack by Hamas.

Trump late on Wednesday criticised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not joining him in a 2020 drone strike in Iraq that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and called Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group that has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the US, “very smart”.

White House spokesperson Andrew Bates on Thursday called Trump’s statements “dangerous and unhinged”.

Germany’s Scholz sees ‘mediation role’ for Qatar

Chancellor Olaf Scholz hosted Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and they discussed the fate of hostages taken by Hamas in Israel, including some German citizens, the government in Berlin said in an emailed statement.

“We must prevent a conflagration in the Middle East,” Scholz wrote on social media. “In coordination with Israel, we are talking to Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and also Qatar, which has a mediating role. It would be irresponsible in this situation not to use all the contacts that can help.”

The Emir earlier met Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who said in a post on X that “Qatar is an important player and mediator in the region.” Baerbock would travel to Israel on Friday, her ministry said, as Deutsche Lufthansa began flights to evacuate German citizens from the country.

Iran says Hamas operation ‘entirely Palestinian’

“The act of resistance was spontaneous and entirely Palestinian,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told state TV.

Iran backs Hamas with funds and training, but has repeatedly denied involvement in the group’s latest attacks.

“We are trying with the necessary measures to provide the conditions for non-combatants to leave Gaza,” he added.

Read more: Iran may have known about Hamas attack, says Israel minister

Syrian media reports Israeli strikes

Israel carried out air strikes targeting Aleppo and Damascus airports, damaging runways and putting them out of service, Syria’s state-run news agency Sana reported.

The report hasn’t been confirmed by Israel.

‘How Israel does this matters,’ says Blinken 

Blinken reiterated that Israel has the right to defend itself following Hamas’s devastating attacks on the country, but cautioned that “how Israel does this matters”.

Speaking alongside Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Thursday, Blinken said the Biden administration would work with Congress to make sure Israel had the weapons it needed to defend itself. But he also issued a carefully worded warning.

“We democracies distinguish ourselves from terrorists by striving for a different standard, even when it’s difficult, and holding ourselves to account when we fall short,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important to take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians. And that’s why we mourn the loss of every innocent life — civilians of every faith, every nationality who have been killed.”

UK offers to help Egypt manage Rafah crossing

On a call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday offered to help manage the situation at the Rafah border crossing into the Gaza Strip, “and keep the route open for humanitarian and consular reasons, including for British nationals”, 10 Downing Street said in an emailed readout of the call.

Egypt’s foreign ministry said the crossing was “open for business”, but that it was Israeli shelling on the Gaza side that interrupted its normal operations, according to the state-run MENA news agency.

More than 1,300 killed in Gaza 

Retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza had killed 1,354 people and wounded thousands, health authorities in Gaza said on Thursday. DM


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