29 December 2008
President Dmitry Medvedev ordered on Monday the Foreign Ministry to provide aid to Russians in the Gaza Strip and evacuate them if necessary amid Israel's military attack on the Palestinian region.
Israel began massive airstrikes on Gaza on Saturday in response to rocket and mortar fire by Hamas militants on southern Israel. Tel Aviv has mobilized up to 6,500 reservists and deployed tanks on Gaza's edge in preparation for a possible ground offensive on the coastal enclave of 1.5 million Palestinians.
Following the president's instructions, the Foreign and Emergency Situations ministries are considering how to provide aid or carry out evacuations.
"We are working out the details of a plan to provide assistance to Russians [in Gaza] and to evacuate them if necessary," a Foreign Ministry spokesman told RIA Novosti.
There are at least 250 Russian citizens in the Gaza Strip, most of them wives and children of Palestinians who studied in Russian universities.
The Russian envoy to the Palestinian National Administration said on Monday there had been no reports of casualties among Russians in Gaza so far.
"We have an evacuation plan in case of an emergency. If we perceive that the situation becomes threatening, we will evacuate them via Jordan as we did before," Sergei Kozlov said.
Russian diplomats organized an emergency evacuation of Russian residents of Gaza in 2007 at the height of clashes between Fatah and Hamas militants. At that time, over 100 Russians were transported to Jordan via Israel and flown to Moscow by an emergencies ministry plane.
Russia's Foreign Ministry on Monday warned Russians against visiting popular pilgrimage sites in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
"The Russian Foreign Ministry recommends that Russian citizens refrain from visiting these regions until the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is over and situation is normal," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 310 Palestinians were killed and another 1,450 were wounded by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza in the last three days.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged on Sunday an end to military actions in the Gaza Strip and stressed the need to allow humanitarian aid into the enclave.