MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — The Federal Aviation Administration has extended its ban on U.S. airlines’ flights to and from Tel Aviv, Israel, for another 24 hours. The ban now runs through 12:15 p.m. ET Thursday, the FAA said.
The ban went into effect on Tuesday in the wake of a Hamas rocket explosion near Israel’s main airport.
Israel declared that Ben-Gurion Airport was safe and said there was no reason to “hand terror a prize” by halting flights.
The rare flight ban came as Israel grappled with news that a soldier went missing after an attack in the Gaza Strip, raising the possibility he was abducted, a scenario that could complicate intense diplomatic efforts to end the two-week conflict.
Palestinian militants have fired more than 2,000 rockets toward Israel since fighting began on July 8, but most — including several heading toward Tel Aviv — fell harmlessly into open areas or were shot out of the sky by the “Iron Dome” defense system, keeping Israeli casualties low.
Tuesday’s rocket attack was the closest to the airport so far, said police spokeswoman Luba Samri, and largely destroyed a house, slightly injuring one Israeli in the nearby Tel Aviv suburb of Yehud.
Aviation authorities reacted swiftly. The FAA prohibited American airlines from flying to Tel Aviv “due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza.” Later, the European Aviation Safety Agency issued an advisory to airlines saying it “strongly recommends” airlines avoid the airport.
Germany’s Lufthansa, Air France, Air Canada, Alitalia, Dutch KLM, Britain’s easyJet, Turkish Airlines and Greece’s Aegean Airlines were among those carriers canceling flights to Tel Aviv over safety concerns amid the increasing violence.
Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz called on the U.S. aviation authority to reconsider, calling the flight ban “unnecessary” and saying Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system provided cover for civil aviation.
“Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and there is no reason whatsoever that American companies would stop their flights and hand terror a prize,” his office said in a statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue of the ban with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in the Middle East on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
“The FAA’s notice was issued to protect American citizens and American carriers. The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens,” Psaki said in a statement. ”
International airlines and passengers have grown more anxious about safety since last week, when a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. While Hamas rockets aren’t guided missiles, they still can cause massive damage to an aircraft.
The Tel Aviv airport is Israel’s main gateway to the world and Hamas militants have said they hoped to target it to disrupt life in Israel.
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