Travel companies begin evacuating Israelis stranded in Peru amid deadly riots

Israeli travel insurers said on Saturday they had launched an operation to rescue tourists stranded in Peru amid deadly riots sparked by the ouster of the country’s president last week.

Travel insurance company Passportcard and MAGNUS International Search and Rescue said the tourists stranded near Aguas Calientes, a town near the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, were making a 10-kilometer (6-mile) long hike escorted by the companies guides on foot. to a hydroelectric facility, where they will then take a six-hour trip to the city of Cusco.

“Passportcard headquarters in Netanya and the MAGNUS emergency response team in Tel Aviv are closely following all steps of the rescue and are in constant contact with security and officials in the field,” the companies said, adding that they would give more information when all the Israelis arrive at their destination.

The rail service that services Machu Picchu has been suspended since Tuesday, leaving some 800 tourists in total stranded in the small town. Several airports across the country have also been closed, including the international terminal in Cusco, which acts as the gateway city to Machu Picchu.

Cusco airport is the third largest in Peru and serves numerous tourist sites in the region.

It has been closed since Monday when protesters tried to storm the terminal, leaving thousands of tourists in limbo.

“There are 5,000 tourists stranded in the city of Cusco, they are in their hotels waiting for flights to resume,” Darwin Baca, mayor of the nearby town of Machu Picchu, told AFP.

The Foreign Ministry warned Israelis in Peru to “avoid crowds, places where demonstrations take place and be attentive to the media and messages from the Foreign Ministry” due to the current situation.

“We highlight that in certain areas of the country, especially in the Cusco region and around Machu Picchu, there are roadblocks and restrictions on movement, entry and exit from the area, since the train system and some airports are not working” , he pointed. the ministry said in a statement.

Israeli tourist Aviv Gilad, who was evacuated on Friday, wrote to the Ynet news site that he and his friends had embarked on a 30-kilometer (18-mile) hike that lasted nine and a half hours along railway tracks and rivers, and then they were escorted by police for two and a half hours to Cusco.

Gilad said that on the way he noticed that railway tracks and highways were blocked by rocks, probably placed by protesters in an effort to bring the country to a standstill.

Yael Hadad, another tourist stranded in Aguas Calientes, told Channel 12 news that she was anxious to be evacuated, noting that food had begun to run out in the area.

“Soon we will start walking. We will be accompanied by local police to be safe. Mainly we are happy to go to Cusco because they are starting to run out of food here,” he said.

Israeli tourist Revital Vinitsky, who was staying in Cusco, told Channel 12 that her flight to the country’s capital, Lima, was canceled in the morning, leaving her stuck in the city.

“I went to the airline company offices because they don’t answer the phone. They do not know English, they speak Spanish to us and we have nothing to talk about, ”he said.

“I recently contacted him. [Israeli] embassy in Peru to understand what to expect, if there is anything to expect, and if they are willing to help. They mainly told us to wait because they don’t know themselves.”

Peru plunged into a political crisis last week after President Pedro Castillo was indicted and arrested following his attempt to dissolve parliament and rule by decree.

Supporters of former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo clash with police to reach the Lima Prefecture, where Castillo was being held, in Lima, on December 7, 2022. (Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP)

Protesters have taken to the streets and demand the release of the ousted Castillo and the resignation of his successor Dina Boluarte, and the holding of new elections.

Health Minister Rosa Gutierrez said Friday that 18 people had been killed in clashes since Castillo was arrested on December 7, and two cabinet ministers resigned over the deaths.

The former left-wing teacher is accused of rebellion and conspiracy, and could be jailed for up to 10 years if convicted, according to prosecutor Alcides Díaz.

An army helicopter is also expected to arrive at Machu Picchu on Saturday to begin transferring stranded tourists to Cusco, city officials said.

About 200 tourists, mostly Americans and Europeans, have left the town on foot along the train tracks in an attempt to reach the town of Ollantaytambo, 30 kilometers (20 miles) away, from where they could catch a train to Cusco.

“What they fear is getting to Cusco and then not being able to go to their country because this could get worse,” Baca said.

Several main highways in Cusco, the former Inca capital, have also been blocked by protesters, as have more than 100 highways across the country.

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