Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Wednesday that Hamas would have taken even more hostages out of Israel into Gaza if his administration had not funded flights to evacuate U.S. citizens out of there after the Oct. 7 attacks.
Hamas abducted over 230 hostages in its surprise attack on Israel that day, an assault that lasted over 20 hours across multiple Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip. But Hamas operatives have not conducted further ground attacks on Israel since then, after the Israeli Defense Forces fought back and began encircling the Palestinian territory.
At the Republican presidential debate on Wednesday evening in Miami, DeSantis criticized President Joe Biden and said there could have been more hostages taken if not for Florida’s actions. He offered no evidence for that statement.
“I can tell ya, as governor, I actually did something about it,” DeSantis said. “Biden’s neglect has been atrocious. We had Floridians over there after the attack — he left them stranded. They couldn’t get flights out. So I scrambled resources in Florida, I sent planes over to Israel, and I brought back over 700 people to safety. There could have been more hostages had we not acted.”
Commercial flights out of Israel kept operating after the Oct. 7 attack, although most direct flights to the United States run by major U.S. carriers were canceled, and flight availability to Europe was limited.
In the days after the attack, the State Department also communicated with U.S. citizens seeking to leave the country and set up charter flights, as well as cruise ships to sail from Haifa to Cyprus that allowed Americans to continue on their journey home independently.
U.S. officials said that the “demand signal” for Americans who wanted to leave Israel was low, given that many dual nationals — many of whom are permanent residents of Israel — had chosen to stay.
To assist in the evacuation of Americans who did want to leave, the DeSantis administration partnered with Project Dynamo. The nonprofit organization had worked in other war zones, including Afghanistan and Ukraine, to evacuate U.S. citizens. The organization’s CEO, Bryan Stern, told reporters after the flights that his team had already been on the ground, and anticipated that the flights would have departed regardless of the Florida government’s involvement.
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