UK to organise flights out of Israel for British nationals

By Andrew MacAskill and William James

LONDON (Reuters) -The British government on Thursday said it would organise flights to get its citizens out of Israel and ordered families of its diplomats to leave in the wake of the war with Hamas.

The first flight is expected to leave Tel Aviv on Thursday with more planned in the coming days subject to the security situation.

“Vulnerable British nationals will be prioritised,” the foreign office said. “We will contact those who are eligible for the flights directly and British nationals should not make their way to the airport unless they are called.”

Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas movement that rules the Gaza Strip in retribution for the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust, when hundreds of gunmen poured across the barrier fence and rampaged through Israeli towns on Saturday.

The repatriation flights would be open to British nationals and dual-nationals, the foreign office said. Their dependents would also be eligible if travelling with a British national normally resident in the UK.

The flights will be commercial, with tickets costing 300 pounds ($369.12). The foreign office declined to say which airline would operate the flight.

Earlier, the British government ordered families of its diplomats in Israel to leave as a “precautionary measure”, but said would remain on active duty and keep offering consular services.

Britain has advised against all non-essential travel to Israel, and the foreign office said it had made its decision about the dependents of diplomats “in line” with that advice.

A British Airways plane on Wednesday was forced to turn around shortly before it was due to land in Tel Aviv. A spokesperson for Israel’s airports authority said rockets were flying around Tel Aviv at the time of the diversion.  

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have since joined easyJet in suspending flights between the United Kingdom and Israel, citing security concerns.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; editing by William James and Andrew Heavens)