1,000 Israelis are on their way home after being stranded in Cusco, Peru.
By Joshua Robbin Marks, World Israel News
The longest flight in El Al history was scheduled to take off from Lima, Peru Thursday morning Peru time but the 16-hour journey was not one that had been planned.
The national carrier lifted nearly 1,000 grateful Israelis out of Latin America after they were stranded in Cusco following the government’s decision to close the borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The air lift will include three El Al planes carrying 270 passengers each, Ynet reports.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz announced on Thursday that the Israelis, who previously had been blocked from leaving Cusco, would be allowed to travel to Lima to board special El Al flights back to Israel sponsored by the ministry.
The main airport in Cusco had been shuttered and everyone, including foreign nationals, were under orders not to leave the city.
Three El Al planes left Israel on Wednesday night to pick up the 1,000 young Israelis, who had been traveling the South American country after their army service.
The free flights were arranged in a coordinated effort with Katz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, El Al and Peruvian officials, The Jerusalem Post reports.
El Al donated $50,000 toward the flights and received monetary contributions from other Israeli companies.
“Following my conversation with the Peruvian foreign minister yesterday… It was agreed that this morning, Peru time, the Israelis will leave from Cusco to Lima and join the travelers already there, where they will all board the planes back to Israel, and God willing, will come back home safely,” Katz said in a statement.
Latin America is a popular destination for young Israelis traveling abroad after their army service.
The Foreign Ministry has urged all Israelis, not just in Latin America, to return to Israel immediately as it has hinted that it might shut its borders in a drastic measure to contain coronavirus. A ministry spokesperson warned that charter flights would not be made available to those who ignored the announcement.
The Jerusalem Post reports that another flight has been scheduled Friday for Israelis stranded in Brazil.