First DeSantis-chartered flights from Israel land in Florida

MIAMI — The first round of flights organized by Gov. , carrying Americans stranded in Israel, arrived in Florida Sunday night, highlighting his state’s response to the war in the Middle East.

The flight carrying 270 people landed in Tampa, where DeSantis and Florida first lady greeted passengers. Another flight carrying seven people landed in Orlando.

DeSantis is offering transportation to Floridians who can’t make it back to the U.S. because of flight cancellations after Hamas’ attack on Israel. DeSantis signed an executive order on Thursday that authorizes Florida’s Division of Emergency Management to deliver flights to Israel and deliver needed supplies, including medicine and clothes.

Florida partnered with Tampa-based nonprofit rescue organization Project DYNAMO to arrange the flights. The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a question about the flights’ cost and whether the state will be providing more help to get people home if they live in another part of the state. A statement sent by the governor’s office did say that passengers weren’t being charged for the flights.

DeSantis, who’s running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has said President Joe Biden hasn’t done enough to help stranded Americans.

“There was a devoid of leadership so we stepped up and led,” DeSantis said Sunday night in a video posted on X.

The Biden administration announced it too was sending flights to Israel, though the State Department is bringing people to European countries — not to the U.S. — and asking passengers for a refund.

The first flight organized by the State Department taking Americans out of Israel landed in Athens on Friday, according to news reports.

Florida’s evacuation efforts also gave DeSantis an opening to contrast himself with former President Donald Trump, who remains the frontrunner in the Republican primary. The governor lashed out at last week Trump after he criticized Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and called Hezbollah “very smart.”

DeSantis said this weekend that the U.S. should refuse to take refugees from Gaza, claiming during a campaign event in Iowa that, “They are all anti-Semitic” and that Palestinians should go to the “Arab states.”

DeSantis last week called on the Legislature to prohibit local governments from contracting with Iranian businesses and issued a memo reminding police officers about Florida’s laws punishing antisemitism.

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