Fifteen Israelis Caught in South Sudan Fighting

South Sudanese policemen and soldiers stand guard along a street in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. (Reuters/Stringer)
South Sudanese policemen and soldiers stand guard along a street in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. (Reuters/Stringer)

Fifteen Israelis, humanitarian aid workers and business people, were caught up in the civil war that has erupted in South Sudan, and as of Tuesday their colleagues and Foreign Ministry officials were urgently trying to find a way to bring them out to safety.

Some of the Israelis were reportedly trapped in the capital, Juba; others scattered elsewhere. Evacuation efforts by Foreign Ministry officials have been hampered by the closure of the international airport in Juba during the unrest.

A representative of the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid (IsraAID) was trapped in Juba. The mission head for the area, Ophelie (family name omitted for safety), was in a compound where fighting has been raging in the vicinity.

In a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post, Ophelie said the sound of heavy artillery could be heard throughout the morning and we “could feel the ground shaking under our feet.”

IsrAID director Shachar Zahavi was searching for a means to extract her from imminent danger. But so far, none has been found. Juba is isolated. The international airport has been shut down amid the upheaval, and Israel does not have an embassy there, only a non-resident ambassador stationed in Yerushalayim.

The Foreign Ministry has issued an advisory to Israelis to stay away from the country, citing “hundreds of deaths” since warfare broke out last Thursday between troops loyal to Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and soldiers taking the side of vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer. South Sudan’s two-year civil war that ended last year was fought largely along ethnic lines, and some 50,000 people were killed.

The violence comes just as South Sudan was marking its independence.

“And now, on the very day of the independence anniversary, Juba was under fire. People were crying and praying. No more singing, no more dancing. The war has resumed. And all these people fleeing now — 200,000 and more. Where will they go?” Ophelie asked. “The place is in total chaos … for all these innocent people who were just aspiring to finally live in peace.”