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Tampa-based Project Dynamo prepares to rescue Americans in Gaza and Israel

Man with a salt-and-pepper beard and wearing a white shirt speaks to the camera. Bookshelves behind him are covered in books and other items.
Project Dynamo
Project Dynamo co-founder and director Bryan Stern speaks to reporters Sunday afternoon about his group's rescue efforts in the Middle East.

Project Dynamo officials say they're preparing to save some of the thousands of Americans stuck in Gaza and Israel in a mission they're calling "Operation Promised Land."

A Tampa-based group is preparing to attempt to help Americans stuck in Israel flee the violence that broke out over the weekend. At the same time, it's warning of possible danger to Jewish people in the greater Tampa Bay region.

Project Dynamo, which consists mainly of military veterans, has previously assisted Americans in such areas as Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Sudan.

During a Sunday news conference, Project co-founder Bryan Stern said they're preparing to save some of the thousands of Americans in the region in a mission they're calling "Operation Promised Land."

"Right now, we're tracking dozens (and) received dozens of requests for evacuation and help from all kinds of people, students, all kinds of things, businesses," Stern said. "On top of (that), we know of multiple American hostages that are being held by Hamas."

Stern added that during the conference call, he received a half dozen more requests for help.

"If we know of, let's say, 60, 70, or 80 (requests)," Stern said. "Probably the actual number is five, six, seven, or eight (times) that that need help."

Other Project Dynamo officials said they have assets on the ground in the region and will be deploying them shortly, if they haven't already.

Hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians were killed and thousands were wounded after Palestinian militants launched a surprise attack on civilian and military targets in Israel early Saturday.

NPR reported that the U.S. State Department confirmed Monday that at least nine American citizens were killed in the attack.

Officials also said an undetermined number of Americans remain missing and unaccounted for. It's not clear if they were killed, in hiding, or taken hostage.

"The hostage situations will likely increase, not decrease, especially once the West Bank becomes engaged, which we think is likely," Stern said.

"We assess the situation to be getting worse before it gets better. The Israeli military, the Israel Defense Forces are tremendously sophisticated, very squared away, very proficient, and they're gonna bring a big hammer, a big fist, and in that fist is going to be civilian casualties, because Hamas uses human civilians as human shields."

Stern also urged caution for Jewish people locally.

"It is certainly a possibility, and I think a sizeable possibility for synagogues and Jewish temples, and Jews at large, to be targeted, somehow, some way. I think that's absolutely possible, in fact, I think that's likely to some extent," Stern said.

While no official warnings have been posted by law enforcement or local schools, individual Jewish institutions have reportedly requested increased law enforcement presence.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.