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Fiji Airways flight leaves Israel with pilgrims, travellers: Fiji minister

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SYDNEY () – Fiji’s Defence Minister said a Fiji Airways flight had left Tel Aviv with almost 200 Fijian religious pilgrims, plus citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States on board.

The flight will arrive in Nadi, Fiji, on Thursday, Defence Minister Pio Tikoduadua told reporters in Suva, and praised the aircrew “who chose to fly into a nation at war”.

Fiji Airways flew into Tel Aviv for the first time a fortnight ago, carrying a large group of Christian pilgrims, as the Pacific Islands nation sought to build closer ties with Israel after it pledged to open an embassy next year.

Several international airlines have suspended flight services to Tel Aviv after the surprise attack by Hamas militants on Israel over the weekend and continued fighting, impacting hundreds of flights.

Fiji Airways special flight 2394 landed in Ben Gurion airport on Tuesday “on a mission to bring Fijians home”, and had safely departed, Tikoduadua said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Also on the flight were international travellers including 13 Australians, 16 New Zealanders, 8 Samoans, as well as several Americans, Canadians and Filippinos, he said.

The minister also said that no decision had been made on where to locate Fiji’s mission in Israel, in comments that appeared to back away from a pledge by deputy prime minister Bill Gavoka that an embassy would be opened in Jerusalem.

“It is still in the planning process in terms of where it will be and how long it will take to be established. Obviously with the situation now, there will be some concerns about how to do it safely,” Tikoduadua said.

Last month Pacific Islands neighbour Papua New Guinea (PNG) opened an embassy in Jerusalem, becoming only the fifth country with a full diplomatic mission in a city whose status is one of the most sensitive issues in the Middle East.

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