Families of Israeli diplomats in Egypt - Motil Milrod - Jan 29, 2011
Families arriving in Israel from Egypt, January 29, 2011. Photo by Moti Milrod
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A specially chartered El Al plane has evacuated the families of Israeli diplomats serving in the Cairo embassy, making an unusual Shabbat flight. It also took on board 50 tourists who asked the embassy to help them return home yesterday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made the decision; Netanyahu also told the cabinet and spokespeople to avoid commenting on the Egyptian uprising to avoid linking Israel with the events.

The Foreign Ministry operated in emergency mode over the weekend, holding briefings on the disturbances in Egypt every few hours. Lieberman spoke several times to Israel's ambassador in Cairo, Yitzhak Levanon, and held a meeting last night on the potential escalation of the riots.

The protests in Cairo eased yesterday morning, but by afternoon it was clear that though the families were in no immediate danger, it was better to take them out of the country. The ambassador and all essential staff have remained in Cairo.

The embassy was closed during the weekend and will probably remain that way until the security situation stabilizes. The remaining diplomats have been instructed to stay at home. Over the weekend, the Foreign Ministry told Israelis to avoid nonessential travel to Cairo. It said Israelis already in the country should stay in their homes or hotels and avoid the demonstrations.

There was no high-level communication between Israel and Egypt over the weekend. The Foreign Ministry does not believe that the protests will produce a Tunisia-like revolution with Mubarak fleeing the country. But many political changes and concessions to the opposition are expected.

Meanwhile, there was little unusual activity on the Taba border crossing between Israel and Egypt. Most people passing through said they were leaving on their original schedules. An exception was an Estonian tourist, who said he was coming from Cairo and had been detained for six hours for taking pictures of the protest.

Israelis crossing the border cited a stream of phone calls from concerned relatives at home, although others said the lines in their hotels had been cut. "We didn't feel a thing, they were really nice and really tried to make sure we felt safe. It was quiet," said one Israeli tourist.