Tears, hugs and welcome home balloons filled the arrival hall at Sydney’s International Airport after the first Israel repatriation flight landed in Sydney.

A total of 222 Australians stranded in Israel flew in on a Qatar flight from Dubai to Sydney about 6pm on Tuesday.

Roughly half of the flight were reunited outside Kingsford Smith’s Arrivals B gate, with the remainder of the flight progressing to domestic services provided by Virgin.

Sydney residents Alan and Judy Landis were one of the dozen or so families and friends waiting for their family to arrive.

Mr Landis was equipped with a ‘Welcome to Sydney’ balloon and a pink unicorn soft toy for his 14-month-old granddaughter, said he was “ecstatic” at the arrival of his younger son, his wife and grandchild.

“They will be safe now. It’s just a shocking situation for Israel and the whole region,” he said.

Despite this, his younger son and his family have chosen to remain in Tel Aviv.

“It was a very difficult decision for my younger son to leave Tel Aviv,” he said.

“(My sons) lived 30 minutes away from each other and were together every weekend.

“But my younger son is able to do some work here.”

The two generations were united in a teary exchange, in front of the Arrivals B gate. Mr Landis’ son Michael, and his daughter-in-law, Lenore Medin were full of praise for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading.

“I’m so grateful for what they’ve been giving us. All the communication, the support, and emails,” he said.

Michael said coming back to Sydney was bittersweet, after living in Israel for the last seven years.

“You feel so much guilt leaving your family in such a difficult situation,” he told cameras and reporters shortly after exiting customs.

“We only made the decision to leave in the last day or so. We were exploring our options and he (Michael’s older brother) is doing the same with his family.”

The first passenger to exit the terminal, Dana Gilden, quickly walked into the embrace of her parents.

“I didn’t have any time to process it all, I was just eyeing my parents,” she said.

“I can’t even think straight. My head is a blur. I feel like I’m in a literal dream.”

She counts both Sydney and Israel as her home but said she needed a “calm environment” to decide on whether she wanted to return to Tel Aviv.

“I’m back for my family. They really needed me back.”

It’s understood further domestic flights will be operated by Virgin Australia, with both Qatar and Virgin offering the flights free of charge in a move welcomed by the Australian government.

A second flight operated by Qantas will depart London’s Heathrow Airport at Tuesday 9am local time, and is scheduled to arrive in Sydney on Wednesday evening.

Airlines, DFAT praised

Present to greet the first flight after they landed, Executive Council of the Jewry president Jillian Segal praised the work of Qantas, Virgin and Qatar.

“They are very happy to be back in Australia, and they are so grateful to the Australian government, who they’ve praised to the hilt,” she said.

Federal Senator Deborah O’Neill, who is also the chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel said she saw returning Australians shed tears of relief, happiness and concern.

She said extraordinary efforts had been made by Australian representatives in Dubai, who began work at 4am local time to ensure the necessary paperwork had been completed for the returning passengers.

“People were standing in the queue, so happy to be back home, with their heart in two places (and) with incredible concern and anxiety about what’s happening for the people that they love back home in Israel,” she said.

“To have that little blue passport with Australia on it, and the emu and the kangaroo, has never meant more to those people who were there today with their family returning.”

No more government flights planned

On Tuesday morning, Defence Minister Richard Marles said no further repatriation flights are planned to leave Israel, after two lights carrying 194 left Tel Aviv for Dubai overnight.

“We believe that these flights do meet the immediate demand on the part of Australians to leave Israel,” he said.

“That said, we are keeping a couple of Air Force planes in the region as a contingency over the coming days.”

He said the government were currently in contact with at least 45 Australians who are currently in Gaza, and will be assisting them to reach safety.

“We are encouraging them to move south within Gaza, to heed the call of Israel in that respect and we’re working with our friends in the international community to see whether a humanitarian corridor can be established out of Gaza, but at this stage that hasn’t happened,” he said.

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