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Portugal airlifts 160 nationals to Cyprus from Israel

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Cyprus has received 160 foreign nationals airlifted to the island from war-torn Israel on a Portuguese military transport plane, with Austria also permitted to operate rescue flights, officials said Wednesday.

Portugal has undertaken three flights from Tel Aviv to Larnaca with a C-130 military transport aircraft to carry their nationals trapped in Israel.

One flight landed Tuesday night, while another two were conducted on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Theodoros Gotsis told the Cyprus News Agency.

He said the aircraft transferred mainly Portuguese nationals from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport to Larnaca.

Gotsis confirmed that eight Cypriots and a few third-country nationals were also on board the C-130 flights.

He confirmed that Austria also submitted a similar request to use Cyprus as a transit station, and the military aircraft will depart on Wednesday night.

The rescue flights came after Cyprus offered its services Tuesday as a safe transfer hub for evacuating foreign nationals from nearby Israel after the shock weekend attack by Hamas militants.

The island’s government is offering “facilities for the repatriation of foreign nationals from Israel through Cyprus”.

European Union member Cyprus has facilitated mass evacuations of foreigners from Lebanon and Sudan in the past.

In 2006, the Mediterranean island welcomed tens of thousands of foreigners evacuated from Lebanon during that year’s devastating war between Israel and Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

In April and May this year, after fierce fighting erupted between rival security forces in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, Cyprus acted as a hub for evacuating 2,611 foreign nationals in an 11-day airlift.

Israel is reeling under a deadly attack by Hamas militants who stormed the border under a barrage of rocket fire on Saturday morning and killed more than 1,200 people inside Israel.

The Israeli army said it was the single deadliest event in the nation’s history, and it has responded by bombarding Gaza and ordering a “complete siege” of its 2.3 million residents.

Palestinian officials say that retaliatory strikes on the blockaded enclave have killed 1,055 people and wounded 5,184.

Nicosia says there are still a small number of Cypriots in Israel waiting to return home.

“The majority of Cypriots still in Israel have tickets booked on commercial flights, but, if necessary, authorities will arrange for them an alternative route back home,” said Gotsis.