Israel calls US ban on flights to Tel Aviv a 'prize' for terrorists

Jul 23, 2014

US and European airlines cancel flights to Tel Aviv after rocket lands one mile from Ben Gurion airport


Israel has urged US aviation authorities to lift a ban on flights to Tel Aviv, warning that travel cancellations would "hand terror a prize''.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) instructed US carriers to suspend flights to Tel Aviv for 24 hours after a rocket landed one mile from Israel's Ben Gurion airport.

A number of European airlines, including Air France, Lufthansa and KLM, have also cancelled flights, although British Airways and Israel's national carrier El Al have continued as normal.

It comes as world leaders push for a ceasefire in the region, where more than 600 Palestinians and 30 Israelis have been killed in the past 14 days of fighting.

USA Today says the move also reflects the "growing anxiety" over global air travel following Thursday's downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

It is the first time in more than two decades that travel from the west has been so disrupted to Ben Gurion airport, the country's main international gateway, which handled 14 million visitors last year and is critical to Israel's economy.

The New York Times calls the FAA ban a "victory of sorts" for Hamas, which has been firing rockets across the border with the aim of disrupting life in Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged the US Secretary of State John Kerry to help restore commercial flights, but a White House official said: "We're not going to overrule the FAA. Period."

Netanyahu's Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said the ban would "hand terror a prize'' and insisted the airport was safe, with civilian flights protected by Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system.

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced last night that he was flying to Israel with El Al to "show solidarity with the Israeli people and to demonstrate that it is safe to fly in and out of Israel". He added: "The flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately."

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