Israelis rush to get home from Cyprus as flights sell out

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Hundreds of Israelis packed into Larnaca International Airport late on Sunday night, desperate to get home before the airspace above the Jewish state potentially closed.

Tickets are difficult to come by, with dozens hoping to get the seat of a no-show for the fully-booked flights. Getting back into the country has been challenging for Israelis and foreigners.

Several BBC teams have had to reroute and find enterprising ways to enter. One journalist had a two-hour layover in Istanbul turned into nine hours.

“Sir, I’ll be honest with you: this is an emergency flight for Israelis to go home,” the airline worker told a BBC journalist. “And that’s it. That’s it.”

As Israelis living abroad woke up on Saturday morning to messages from their families and news alerts on their phones, some started booking flights back home. Their country was under attack, they said. They needed to return. They needed to fight.

“It’s the thought that you have friends that will be in immediate danger, and you cannot help them,” said Yotam Avrahami, 31, one of the many Israelis who has been packing bags and preparing to join the fight.

Mr. Avrahami, who has lived in New York for four years, said he is lucky — his wife and 7-month-old daughter will stay in New York, safe from the violence. But his friends back home have already had loved ones die in the most recent attacks — and they have seen children killed, too.

“You’re trying to protect them,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Mr. Avrahami spent about $2,000 on a one-way plane ticket, he said, and he has planned to report to a base on Sunday to see where he is needed. He has also been messaging another friend who was waiting to fly home from Dubai.

“I’m not unique,” he said. “This is kind of Israelis across the board.”

But some flights into the country are being canceled, leaving Israelis abroad in limbo. Aaron Kaplowitz, the president of the United States-Israel Business Alliance, has spoken with friends across the world trying to get back, he said.

“Many of them are trying to sort out the logistics to find ways to get back to Israel, to either rejoin their reserve units or just to be around their friends and family,” he said.

Mr. Avrahami, for his part, said his wife is concerned for his safety. But, he said, “at the end of the day, she understands the necessity.”

They spent the day before his flight preparing: They went to The North Face to get supplies — comfortable clothes, a new pair of boots — to wear during what could be weeks of combat.

Avrahami, who works in investments and consulting with Deloitte, also said he had been emailing his colleagues and clients, letting them know that he would be out of the office for a while.

“I was planning on client engagement, workloads, managing next opportunities, business management, investment cycles and stuff like that,” he said. “My whole world was like that yesterday. Today, it just doesn’t matter anymore.”

READ MORE: War in Israel: "We made our cross and came," say the first Greeks who returned.

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