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Balkan States Rush to Evacuate Citizens from War-Torn Israel

Balkan countries are evacuating their citizens from Israel as governments express condemnation of the Hamas attacks – though some put forward more calibrated stances on the conflict.

Balkan governments are trying to evacuate their citizens from Israel as the conflict between Israeli forces and Hamas militants from Gaza strip continues.

The honorary consul of Serbia in Israel, Aleksandar Nikolic, said one Serbian citizen had been slightly wounded and was treated at a clinical centre. Nikolic added that there are still Serbian residents and non-residents in Israel, but that they are gradually being evacuated.

“Today a flight from Ben Gurion Airport to Nikola Tesla Airport [in Belgrade] is expected. Another one tomorrow, Air Serbia flights. No cancellations have been announced,” he stressed.

After Hamas militants launched a surprise massive attack against Israel, killing hundreds, Israel’s government has declared “war”. Israeli military laboured into Monday to crush Palestinian fighters still embedded in southern towns and intensified a bombardment of the Gaza Strip. The death toll passed 1,100, with thousands more wounded on both sides.

One of the missing people taken hostage by Hamas is reportedly a Serbian citizen.

Dusan Mihalek, longtime editor of the music program of Radio Novi Sad and a famous Serbian tourist guide in the Holy Land, announced that his grandson had disappeared near the border with Gaza. It is believed that he was abducted by members of Hamas at a music festival on Saturday that was attended by many Europeans.

“Our oldest grandson, Mor, has disappeared, on the border with Gaza. We are in a panic. We don’t know anything about him. Please pray,” Mihalek wrote on his Facebook profile.

Bulgarian government plane to collect 92 Bulgarian citizens and one Croatian fllew from Tel Aviv on Sunday – mainly tourists, as well as a group of dentists who were part of a conference.

The flight received approval to take off from the Israeli authorities after it was designated as diplomatic. Minister of Transport Georgi Gvozdeykov praised Bulgaria as the first country to organise an evacuation.

However, Bulgarian Vice PM Maria Gabriel said that diplomats and their families are not expected yet to be transferred to Sofia.

On Sunday, Romania’s Foreign Ministry said it had evacuated 115 Romanian citizens. Previously, the ministry announced that 346 Romanian and foreign citizens were repatriated on the night of Saturday to Sunday, with two flights operated by the state carrier TAROM. Some 900 Romanian citizens, most of them religious pilgrims, were in the country.

There are currently around 180 Croatian citizens in Israel, Croatia’s Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday, adding that the Croatian embassy was n constant contact with them.

“The ministry … is working intensively on finding a solution for the repatriation of our citizens to Croatia. The situation is very challenging and changing – passenger air traffic in Tel Aviv has been suspended, while crossings over border crossings with Jordan are limited,” the statement said. The ministry urged Croatian citizens leave until the situation stabilizes.

Albania’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that it had brought home 40 citizens who had asked to leave. Among them were also citizens of Kosovo and North Macedonia. “In the following days, there will be more special flights to Tel Aviv, while the Foreign Ministry is coordinating with the sister ministries of countries of the region to come to the aid of all citizens who want to return to their countries,” it added.

Two Kosovo citizens were evacuated on Sunday on a rescue air flight from Tel Aviv to Tirana among around 40 other Albanian citizens.

It was confirmed that one of evacuated Kosovo citizens was a student, daughter of Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla, who was studying in Israel.

The same day Hamas militants attacked Israel, Kosovo’s embassy in Jerusalem called on all Kosovo citizens in Israel to contact the embassy.

North Macedonia’s Foreign Ministry assessed that as many as 200 citizens of North Macedonia are currently in Israel, and some are in the affected areas. The ministry has set up a contact centre where they or their relatives can report and ask for help.

Earlier, the ministry said that seven North Macedonia tourists in Bethlehem had been evacuated from there and had crossed the border to Jordan, where they received help from the country’s honorary consul.

Another family of four had also left Tel Aviv on a commercial flight through Istanbul and were expected to return to North Macedonia.

According to the embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Israel, no Bosnian citizens were injured or killed, while one person was evacuated on Sunday night.

“With the assistance of the Serbian Embassy in Tel Aviv, we managed to evacuate one of our citizens by plane last night,” Bosnian ambassador Dusko Kovacevic confirmed, SRNA news agency reported.

Turkey did not share data about how many of its citizens are in Israel or Palestine and how many of them were evacuated but called on them to stay in closed areas and get in touch with the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv.

“It is recommended that you follow the official websites and social media accounts of our Embassy in Tel Aviv, our Consulate General in Jerusalem and our Ministry for developments,” the embassy in Tel Aviv said.

Shortly after midnight on October 8, a plane carrying 81 citizens of Greece from Israel landed at Eleftherios Venizelos Airport in Athens.

Of the 149 registered Greeks on board, according to the Greek Foreign Ministry, 81 were part of two organized tours repatriated from Ben Gurion Airport by direct flight. For remaining Greek individual visitors, efforts are being made to ensure their safe return soon.

So far, 43 Montenegrin citizens have contacted the country’s honorary consulate in Israel, 30 of whom have expressed their desire to return to Montenegro.

Previously, outgoing PM Dritan Abazovic said a plane owned by the state airline was ready to fly to Israel to evacuate Montenegrin citizens, and none of them was reportedly injured, killed or missing.

Moldova announced that until now, it has no information about Moldovan citizens who were taken prisoner or were among the victims. Its embassy said Israel’s airspace remains open and that flights to Chisinau are scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday.

Balkan States Support Israel, Some More Nuanced

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the NATO ?summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, 11 July 2023. Photo: EPA-EFE/TOMS KALNINS

As the US and the EU sided strongly with Israel over the Hamas attacks, some Balkan countries remained more nuanced on the issue.

Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Greece and North Macedonia voiced solidarity with Israel.

North Macedonia’s PM Dimitar Kovacevski and Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani “strongly condemned” the attacks on Israel as “terrorist attacks”. “The violence and the attacks on innocent population must not be tolerated,” Kovacevski wrote on X on Sunday.

Kosovo also condemned the attacks against Israel. “Our thoughts are with the people of Israel during this incredibly challenging time. We condemn all acts of violence and stand in unwavering solidarity with those affected,” it said.

Bulgaria expressed full solidarity with Israel with a demonstration in support in front of the parliament in Sofia on Sunday, in which the building was lit in the colours of the Israeli flag.

But some Balkan countries, such as Serbia, Bosnia and Turkey, followed a more cautious policy.

Bosnia’s Foreign Ministry said it condemned “all forms of violence, especially the killings of innocent civilians”.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Saturday condemned the Hamas attacks but called for a long-term compromise between the parties.

“We condemn the horrific attacks on Israel. The Jewish people have endured a history of suffering and Israel deserves to live in peace and with security. Now, more than ever, the world needs Israelis and Palestinians to come together and put a stop to the violence,” he wrote on Twitter.

While top Montenegrin officials voiced solidarity with Israel, there was also sharp criticism on social media of what some saw as a biased stance, and not recognising the Palestinian civilians also killed.

Turkey called for a halt to violence on both sides. President Erdogan warned against “adding fuel to the fire” on Sunday, and said Turkey was ready to lead diplomatic talks to ease the tension between Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

“We are determined to continue the diplomatic efforts we have started to re-establish calm by intensifying them. We call on all parties with a say in the region to sincerely contribute to peace,” Erdogan said.

Source : Balkan Insight


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