One of the bloodiest weekends in Israel’s recent history has unfolded, with hundreds dead and thousands injured following a coordinated mass Hamas attack during a Jewish holiday and an Israeli response that amounted to a declaration of war.
Civilians and military have been taken hostage and a Hamas representative has said the offensive will be the “greatest battle to end the last occupation on earth”.
While travel to the region is not (yet) officially suspended, travellers will be monitoring the situation and various international travel advisories.
“Do not travel”
The US State Department has advised any visitors to Israel or the West Bank to exercise increased caution because of “terrorism and civil unrest.” It has a so-called “do not travel” advisory in place for Gaza. Describing the situation as “dynamic”, it said “mortar and rocket fire may take place without warning.”
Meanwhile the American air authority, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has urged the same “extreme caution” to pilots and carriers operating in Israeli airspace.
The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has advised against all travel to Gaza, the Sheba’a Farms and Ghajjar, or within 500m of Lebanon’s ‘Blue Line’ border, east of Metula, including the northern edge of the town. Within 500m Syria’s ‘Alpha Line’ border is also considered a no-go area.
In addition the FCDO recommends only “essential” reasons for travel to the northern West Bank, including Arranah, Burqin, and Jenin city and refugees camp. Nablus city and its New Askar and Balata refugee camps, as well as Joseph’s Tomb, and the village of Huwara are also considered off-limits unless essential travel is required.
Are airlines even still flying there?
Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport remains open and, on Saturday, a British Airlines and a Virgin flight arrived normally.
However, various international airlines including American, Delta and United proceeded to suspend flights, citing safety and security reasons. Delta and United have issued travel waivers, meaning that voyagers can change their tickets with no charges or fee differences.
El Al, Israel’s national airline has set up a national helpline for customers whom it says “may suspend flights without charge or cancel with a voucher without costs.”
Groundings, cancellations and delays
In terms of European carriers, Lufthansa is reducing and canceling flights to Tel Aviv. The German carrier is joined by, Austrian Airlines, Swiss Air, Turkish Airlines in suspending traffic to and from Israel.
By early in the weekend, approximately 16% of flights had been cancelled and 23% were delayed.
Flights have also been diverted, such as four by Wizz Air, which all went to Cyprus instead of Israel when news of the attacks broke. Another Wizz Air flight, as well as an Anadulojet one from Istanbul, did a U-turn mid-flight. A SunExpress service from Antalya was grounded, as was a Brussels Airlines departure from Brussels.
For visitors to the region who are already on the spot, the advice is to seek consular assistance.