WASHINGTON – The U.S. government will begin arranging charter flights on Friday for U.S. citizens and their immediate family members to leave Israel as the war between Hamas and Israel continues into its sixth day.
The death toll of Americans who have died as a result of conflict between Israel and Hamas has risen to 27, announced John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, at Thursday’s White House press briefing.
Kirby said 14 Americans remain unaccounted for. According to the Wall Street Journal, 1,300 people have died in Israel and 1,417 people have died in Gaza.
To help prevent further American casualties, the charter flights will evacuate people to other sites in Europe, Kirby said.
“We’re working very hard on this,” Kirby said. “There’s a demand out there and we’re going to try the best we can to meet it.”
The State Department is still finetuning the details of this operation, Kirby said, including whether the flights will be cost-free. Kirby said the government is “exploring” other evacuation options by land and sea.
According to Axios, several airlines have canceled flights out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, the busiest in Israel. The State Department issued a Level 3 travel advisory for Israel on Wednesday, warning Americans to reconsider travel to the state.
“We continue to monitor the situation closely and evaluate the demand from U.S. citizens for assistance in departing from Israel on a real-time basis but expect these initial travel options to facilitate the safe departure of thousands of U.S. citizens per week,” the State Department said in a statement released Thursday.
Kirby said the U.S. government is unsure of the exact number of Americans in Israel. A senior U.S. official told NPR on Thursday the government is trying to evacuate 400 to 600 American citizens out of Gaza.
Regarding Americans in Gaza, Kirby said the government is having “active conversations” with the Israeli and Egyptian governments on how to help them leave.
“The first and most important thing we’re trying to do is allow for safe passage,” Kirby said.
The government believes Hamas has less than a handful of U.S. hostages in Gaza, according to Kirby. Their locations remain undetermined, Kirby said, but the government’s assumption is the hostages are likely spread out over multiple locations based on previous Hamas operations.
“It is a common tactic in the Hamas playbook to break up hostages and move them around, sometimes in small groups,” Kirby said. “So we have nothing that would indicate to us that they would follow a different set of protocols.”
Gaza is suffering from severe water, electricity and fuel shortages as Israel continues bombarding the 140-square-mile land strip with airstrikes and blockading any import of supplies, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
The director of Al Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest medical facility, told the New York Times the complex has enough generator power for the next four days. This has sparked a humanitarian crisis in the region and questions of whether the U.S. plans on sending aid to the region’s civilians.
“There have been ongoing conversations with our Israeli counterparts about the need for continued flow of humanitarian assistance,” Kirby said.
However, the Biden administration and leading members of Congress do have concrete plans to send aid to Israel: a $2 billion military funding package, according to Time. The aid includes interceptors for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system, artillery shells and additional munitions.
In his Tuesday remarks on the Israel-Hamas War, President Biden said Israel must “uphold the laws of war,” which according to the International Red Cross, include not attacking civilians. Kirby said the protection of Palestinian civilians is “always on the President’s mind” as the conflict intensifies.
“The Palestinian people are innocent civilians,” Kirby said. “They didn’t ask Hamas to come in and do this.”