Israelis stranded in Morocco by coronavirus reach home

France works with Israel, Morocco, to bring stranded Israelis home.


Plane (illustrative)
Plane (illustrative)

Twenty-six Israelis stranded in Morocco by coronavirus measures have been repatriated in an operation facilitated by France and two US billionaires, Israeli sources told AFP on Friday.

Each year, many Israelis of Moroccan descent travel to the North African country to see the land of their ancestors or mark religious festivals.

Some travel on French or other passports, making data on their nationalities hard to track.

In March, the 26 Israelis, who had taken part in Jewish religious celebrations in the kingdom, were trapped there when authorities declared a lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

As Israel has no formal ties with Morocco, a partly private mission was set up to repatriate them by way of France, Shimon Mercer-Wood, spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Paris, told AFP.

He said the French foreign ministry "agreed to give places to Israeli citizens on a French repatriation flight."

"We are very grateful to the French for that," he added.

The Moroccan foreign ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sources close to the operation said the Israelis flew from Casablanca to Paris on Wednesday, then continued on a private flight to Tel Aviv, where they arrived the following day.

One of the organizers of the trip was former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.

On Thursday, he posted images of the arriving passengers disembarking with protective masks covering their faces.

He said the private jet bringing them from Paris was provided by Jewish-American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, both of them high-profile supporters of US President Donald Trump and of Israel.

"This morning 26 Israelis, who had not been able to return home from Morocco because of corona(virus), landed," Barkat wrote in Hebrew.

"I thank Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for assistance in the diplomatic arena and Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson who donated the plane that brought them to Israel."

Footage posted by Barkat showed the repatriated Israelis holding up banners thanking the Adelsons and Moroccan King Mohammed VI.

"The matter was organized by security agencies under the direct responsiblity of the (Israeli) National Security Agency, reporting to the prime minister," a source close to Barkat told AFP.

Netanyahu's office declined to comment.