Tongan officials have stepped up to help members of a New Zealand-based church group who found themselves stuck in Israel after the deadly surprise attack that killed hundreds and wounded thousands of people.
Up to 54 members of the Connection City Church Assemblies of God church travelled to Israel for a Holy Land tour, visiting historical Christian sites.
They arrived in Jerusalem early last week, just a few days before the devastating weekend assault by Hamas gunmen.
Pesi Sikalu told the Herald this morning they had received good news overnight – Turkish Airlines is now set to resume a flight out of Israel that the group is booked to be on.
The Tongan Government has also sent its consul representative to be with the group.
“He will travel with us all the way back to New Zealand to ensure our safe arrival and has assured us that there are contingency plans in place in case anything happens – and that Tonga is willing to cover any costs if that’s the case,” Sikalu said.
“At this stage, we are praying and waiting for [the day] to arrive so we can begin our journey back home.”
She acknowledged many were anxious to get back to New Zealand and to see loved ones, especially given what they had been through since the attack.
“It’s crazy. We had to take cover under a shelter – it was just a wall. We could feel the vibrations of the bombings happening.
“We heard a lot of gunfire, the bombings. We’re right in the thick of it. We’re just trying to stay strong, trying to stay sane. We’re scared.”
Sikalu approached the newspaper Tuesday after their initial flight with Turkish Airlines was cancelled and they had not heard from the airline for two days.
They had also been in touch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) but had not received any communication with it either.
With a total of 210 kiwis registered on SafeTravel as being in Israel, the group makes up a large chunk of New Zealanders there at the moment.
There are 10 New Zealanders registered in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, an MFAT spokeswoman said Tuesday.
SOURCE: NZ HERALD/PACNEWS