(TIMES OF ISRAEL, AP) – Israel extracted some 200 citizens and local Jews from conflict zones in Ethiopia last Thursday, the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office announced, amid fighting in the African country’s northern Amhara region.
According to a joint statement, Israel rescued 174 Israelis and Ethiopians eligible to immigrate from the city of Gondar in Amhara, home to thousands of Ethiopians waiting for permission to move to Israel. Another 30 Israelis were rescued from Amhara’s capital city of Bahir Dar.
Officials did not say how many of those extracted were citizens and how many were not.
Four flights brought the evacuees to Addis Ababa, from where those immigrating to Israel were to travel on to the Jewish state. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said the Israelis will stay in the Ethiopian capital until deciding to return home or remain in the country.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Israel looks after its citizens wherever they are,” while thanking those involved for a “quick, silent and most importantly, successful” operation. He pledged that Israel will warmly welcome the new immigrants.
Cohen also hailed the rescue. “The State of Israel will not stand by and will not leave a single Israeli behind,” he said. “This is the result of successful cooperation and close coordination with the Prime Minister’s Office, the NSA and the Jewish Agency. I am proud of the people of the Foreign Ministry and the Israeli embassy in Ethiopia for their swift and high-quality action.”
During the operation, the Foreign Ministry’s situation room was expanded to include representatives from the Jewish Agency and IDF soldiers of Ethiopian descent who speak Amharic.
The operation came several days after a number of Israelis were reportedly rescued from the area. The Foreign Ministry had earlier urged Israelis in Amhara to remain at secure locations and try to maintain contact with the embassy in Addis Ababa, while calling on others to reconsider travel plans to the country.
It also came a day after the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry announced it would hold a protest outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem to call for the government to bring in greater numbers of Ethiopian Jews who are eligible to immigrate to Israel.
According to Ethiopia’s government and residents, the country’s military has recaptured several areas in Amhara from local militia fighters as details of dozens of civilian deaths began to emerge from the region amid an internet shutdown.
The military reclaimed control of six towns, including the regional capital, Bahir Dar, and Amhara’s second-largest town, Gondar, according to a government statement. The statement said a curfew was imposed in those areas but flights were set to resume.
The federal government declared a state of emergency in Amhara after regional authorities lost control and asked for help. The violence erupted over attempts by Ethiopia’s federal government to disband Amhara regional forces after the end of a two-year conflict in the neighbouring Tigray region. Amhara forces and militia fought alongside Ethiopia’s military in that conflict.
Residents told the Associated Press there was fierce fighting between military personnel and militia members in Bahir Dar and Gondar until last Tuesday. Around 20 civilians killed during clashes with the military were buried last Monday in the Lideta area of Bahir Dar, a resident said.
Bahir Dar, Gondar and Lalibela were calm by Thursday morning, with government troops in control, the residents said. In several areas, roadblocks were getting cleared from the streets.
Analysts fear the Amhara militia, known as Fano, may continue its struggle in the countryside using guerrilla tactics.