A group of 20 Israelis was rescued last night from Tunisia, where a violent uprising has succeeded in overturning the government. The complicated mission was orchestrated by a number of Israeli authorities including the Foreign Ministry. The tourists were first transferred to a third country, from where are to continue to Israel by plane.
Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy said of the affair, “It is a story that ends well, but demanded life-saving efforts by the Foreign Ministry and other agents.”
European travel companies were also rushing Saturday to retrieve thousands of tourists on package tours to Tunisia after widespread protests toppled the North African nation’s longtime president and brought chaos to some cities.
Tour companies in Britain and Germany started the airlift process, sending planes to Tunisia to bring back tourists anxious to return home. The French national travel agency association, CETO, said French tour operators planned to evacuate tourists shortly and urged people planning trips to Tunisia in the next few days to cancel their plans and change their tickets.
Tunisia in recent years has become a popular sun-and-sand destination for Europeans looking to escape wintry weather, and the uprising there caught tour operators by surprise after a sustained period of stability.
Meanwhile celebrations over the stunning rebellion in Tunisia against the 23-year rule of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali spread throughout the globe as the popular uprising raised hopes throughout the Arab world that it could inspire pressures for reforms across a region dominated by authoritative regimes.
“Now the bell is ringing and it should be a reminder to other leaders that people are fed up,” said political analyst Labib Kamhawi in Jordan, where more than 5,000 people joined rallies on Friday to protest rising prices and demand the prime minister’s ouster.
“They need political freedoms and serious economic reforms, that there must be an end to corruption and nepotism,” he added.
Dozens of demonstrators rallied outside the Tunisian embassies Saturday in Cairo and Amman, Jordan.
Meanwhile, thousands of messages congratulating the Tunisian people flooded the Internet on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, and many people replaced their profile pictures with red Tunisian flags.
Egyptian activists opposed to President Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade regime danced outside the Tunisian Embassy in Cairo as the news broke on Friday, chanting “Ben Ali, tell Mubarak a plane is waiting for him too!”
The Arab League appealed for calm in Tunisia as mass chaos broke out following Ben Ali’s ouster.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa urged Tunisians Saturday to look to the future and resolve the crisis by national consensus “in a way that guarantees respect for the will of the Tunisian people.”
He called the events “dangerous and historic,” saying they mark “the beginning of one era and the end of another.”