Some 270 American evacuees, including 92 children and two dogs, have safely returned to the United States from Israel following the outbreak of violence in the region, a charity established to save civilians from conflict zones has announced.
Project Dynamo, which was established to save American citizens after the U.S. Armed Forces pulled out of Afghanistan in August 2021, said late on Sunday night that a flight from its “Operation: Promised Land” had touched down in Tampa, Florida, around 8 p.m. ET.
Flight tracking shows the EuroAtlantic Boeing 777 aircraft departed Tel Aviv around 10:39 a.m. local time on Sunday morning, stopping in Porto, Portugal, in the early afternoon before continuing on to the U.S. Project Dynamo said it was the charitable organization’s 602nd mission to date.
Since areas across Israel were attacked by Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants on October 7, many commercial flights in and out of the country have been canceled. In the days since the surprise assault, there have been continued air strikes and rocket attacks from both Israel and Hamas.
As of Monday, more than 4,000 people have died in the conflict, according to the Associated Press. The Gaza Health Ministry said 2,750 Palestinians have been killed and 9,700 wounded, while over 1,400 Israelis have been killed, and at least 199 others, including children, have been taken hostage by militants, according to Israel.
“We’ve been here for over a week, since the day after the big massacre, and we’re excited to get home, we’re excited to get these people out and we’re excited to pull this operation off,” Bryan Stern, the founder and CEO of Project Dynamo, said while traveling on a bus with the evacuees to the flight in Israel on Sunday morning.
Newsweek reached out to Project Dynamo via email for comment on Monday.
Stern also personally thanked Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for his assistance in the rescue operation through the signing of an executive order earlier in the week.
The Republican presidential candidate appeared with his wife at the welcome tent for the flight to greet those arriving in the U.S. after ordering the suspension of “the effect of any statute, rule, or order that would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay any mitigation, response, or recovery action necessary to cope with this emergency” on Thursday.
The executive order declared a state of emergency in Florida, noting the state’s large Jewish population and threats made in recent days in relation to the conflict. Speaking on the tarmac as the evacuees disembarked, DeSantis said: “There was a devoid of leadership, so we step [sic] up and led.”
While DeSantis has criticized the Biden administration for not launching rescue operations for American citizens in the region, the U.S. State Department says that limited commercial flights are available and that it is “facilitating charter flight transportation for U.S. citizens.”
“The safety of American citizens—whether at home or abroad—is my top priority as President,” Joe Biden said.
The Pentagon has ordered two carrier strike groups into the Eastern Mediterranean, which could be used for evacuations if necessary. CNN reported on Saturday that the State Department was working to evacuate hundreds of Americans trapped in Gaza.
The Biden administration’s primary focus has been on the American being held hostage in Gaza. Officials said last week that 20 U.S. citizens remain unaccounted for, though the number thought to be held captive was “less than a handful.”
Project Dynamo is run by military veterans and first responders, and since 2021 has evacuated 6,075 people from places of conflict or natural disaster around the world, including Ukraine, Haiti and Sudan.