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Two Cypriot tour groups to return from Israel, ministry making efforts for return of third (update 2)

aftermath of israeli strikes in gaza city
A Palestinian man carries his belongings next to the ruins of Watan Tower, which was destroyed in Israeli strikes, in Gaza City October 8, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Two groups of Cypriot tourists in Israel are returning on Sunday, the foreign ministry said, after fighting broke out when Israeli forces clashed with Hamas, after the latter launched a surprise attack.

According to the foreign ministry, no Cypriots living in Tel Aviv for either study or work have been injured.

The ministry said that only one of three groups of Cypriot tourists, with around 100 people each, communicated with Cyprus’ authorities to inform them they would be returning later Sunday.

From what the ministry was informed by the one group, there are severe delays at the Tel Aviv airport from the onset of the violence. The second group is set to return later in the day as well, while the ministry is still attempting to secure the third group returns as well.

A ministry source also said that so far, no injuries of any Cypriots living mostly in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem have been reported.

In an announcement on social media, the airline TUS said that they would be running more routes between Tel Aviv and Larnaca dues to the ongoing situation in Israel.

The company added that times of flights may change, so passengers should continue to monitor all information online frequently.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces clashed with gunmen from the Palestinian group Hamas, 24 hours after the militants launched a surprise attack on Israel in which nearly 500 people were killed in the deadliest day of violence in Israel for 50 years.

The biggest incursion into Israel in decades could undermine US-backed efforts to forge regional security alignments that could threaten Palestinian aspirations for statehood and the ambitions of the group’s main backer, Iran.

Hamas fighters began their attack at dawn on Saturday with a huge barrage of rockets into southern Israel, giving cover to an unprecedented, multi-pronged infiltration of fighters into Israel from Gaza, a narrow strip that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians.

In statements on Sunday following the onset of violence, Cyprus’ ambassador to Israel Kornelios Korneliou said the embassy had been in action since the first instant.

“It was a very difficult day which started very early with the first wave of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. This situation continued until late,” he said.

Commenting on the Cypriots in Israel, Korneliou said that dozens of Cypriots were in the country for medical reason, or for tourism or other reasons, including a cancelled concert of Bruno Mars. There were also 300 people as part of tour groups visiting holy sites.

“It was a difficult exercise, fortunately, however, there were no Cypriots among the victims or the injured,” he said. Korneliou explained that some of the Cypriots have already returned to Cyprus.

“It is very important that Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv continues to operate, even though some companies have either suspended or reduced their flights, which naturally creates difficulties in finding seats,” he said.

He added that many Cypriots had contacted the embassy in Tel Aviv to learn about what flight delays and cancellation, and on how best to leave Israel.

Commenting further on the situation, and whether there were Cypriots in the Gaza strip area, where most of the fighting occurred, Korneliou said there weren’t and that he had spoken with Cyprus’ ambassador to the Palestinian authority and that they have not hear anything concerning.

He added that he had been in contact with Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos, and informed him that the embassy staff are all well, and that the Cypriots are doing well.

“Everyone is well, we are now awaiting the guidelines from the Israeli government, to see if we will go back and to learn if embassies and state services will operate tomorrow,” he said.

He added that the fighting was a shock, and that it reminded of scenes from the 1973 war between Israel and Palestine.

“It seems however that this time things are serious, and this war will take some time,” he said.

Commenting on staff from the embassy, he said some staffers live in southern Tel Aviv and saw the missiles from Gaza flying overhead, and then the Israeli anti-missile systems intercepting them.

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