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Antonella Kamien, a Canadian who left Israel on a privately organized evacuation flight, at Haifa airport on Oct. 11, 2023.Geoffrey York/The Globe and Mail

As they boarded the first Canadian evacuation flight from Israel, departing Canadians said they felt frustrated by a lack of clear communication from their embassy in the country.

The first flight, a privately organized Dash 8 charter, took off from a small airport in the Israeli city of Haifa on Wednesday afternoon carrying 27 passengers, mostly Canadians. It arrived an hour later in Larnaca, Cyprus.

Two more Canadian flights, with as many as 267 passengers, are being privately arranged in the next two days, and the federal government has promised to organize a larger evacuation on Canadian military planes by the end of the week, with those flights likely to begin on Friday.

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“The situation is terrifying,” said Antonella Kamien, a 32-year-old Canadian who was boarding Wednesday’s flight from Haifa with her father and her five-year-old son.

After living in Israel for the past eight years, she decided to leave when Hamas militants killed more than 1,200 Israelis in a cross-border assault on the weekend.

“It’s not something that anyone should live with,” she told The Globe and Mail. “I’m terrified especially because I have a child, and I want to protect him as much as possible. This is really the only reason why I’m leaving – to protect my son.”

Ms. Kamien said she phoned the Canadian embassy twice in the past two days to seek help but could get nothing beyond a vague promise.

“That’s no help. During war times, we need certainty. We have enough uncertainty. I said to them, ‘Other countries are bringing planes to evacuate their citizens from Israel, and where is Canada?’ It’s taking way too long, when other countries are acting much faster.”

Ms. Kamien and other Canadians said they found out about Wednesday’s evacuation flight only by a fluke, after someone had spotted posts on social media mentioning it. They were unable to get onto commercial flights from Israel, which were cancelled or sold out.

Stephen Arbib, a Toronto business executive who runs a disaster-zone logistics company, paid for the private evacuation flights from Haifa this week. “We did this privately because of the frustration that people were having,” he told The Globe.

“People were reaching out to us very quickly. It’s been an interesting few sleepless nights.”

Ben Shain, a 36-year-old high-tech sales and marketing worker from Toronto who has lived in Israel for the past six years, decided to get onto the evacuation flight on Wednesday after a Hamas rocket had smashed into buildings about 100 metres from his apartment in Tel Aviv a few days earlier.

“It makes it a little more real,” he said. “I’m getting more uncomfortable and a general unease and anxiety. We’re only about 80 kilometres north of this action, and that’s too close for me to an active war zone, to be honest. Nothing’s going to get back to normal for months.”

After registering with the Canadian embassy earlier this week, Mr. Shain said he heard nothing from the embassy. “I don’t know when the Canadian government is going to actually get those planes over here. I don’t particularly have much faith in their ability to do it fast.”

About 35,000 Canadians live in Israel on a permanent basis. As of Wednesday, about 1,000 people have contacted the Department of Global Affairs for assistance, senior Canadian government officials said.

Yido Mecica, a 27-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., who works for a consulting firm in Tel Aviv, said he received only “generic responses” when he contacted a federal emergency number in Ottawa. He tried to book a flight to Spain, but it was quickly cancelled.

“If it gets worse, I don’t really trust the Canadian government, I’ve lost faith in them,” he said.

“It’s very dangerous here. Anything could happen. A rocket actually hit a building on my street, about two minutes away from me. It was quite frightening. When I heard the boom, it shakes the bones in your body.”

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