UK & World News

  • 23 July 2014, 2:24

Airlines Halt Israel Flights Amid Rocket Fire

US and European airlines have grounded flights to Israel, after a plane was diverted when a rocket landed near Tel Aviv's airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an advisory banning American airlines from flying to Tel Aviv for 24 hours after Delta, US Airways and United all cancelled services to Israel.

EasyJet, Air France, Dutch airline KLM and Germany's Lufthansa were among European carriers which later announced they had followed suit.

The European Aviation Safety Agency issued a "strong recommendation" to airlines to avoid Tel Aviv airport until further notice.

But not all carriers heeded the warning - British Airways said its twice-daily London-Tel Aviv service would continue.

Israel's Transportation Ministry urged the airlines to reconsider their decision, insisting that the nation's busiest air hub was secure.

"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," it said in a statement.

Employees and passengers at the Tel Aviv airport were sent running for shelter earlier on Tuesday as warning sirens wailed amid the incoming rocket fire.

Delta said one of its planes from New York to Ben Gurion Airport had to be diverted to Paris because of the incident.

Flight 468 had 273 passengers and 17 crew on board.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AP news agency a missile had damaged a house and slightly wounded one Israeli.

The FAA said it had "issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) informing US airlines that they are prohibited from flying to or from Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport for a period of up to 24 hours.

"The notice was issued in response to a rocket strike which landed approximately one mile from Ben Gurion International Airport on the morning of July 22, 2014."

The FAA issued a broader air warning about Ukraine earlier this year before last week's downing of a passenger jet over that country, killing all 298 people on board.

Atlanta-based Delta said its once-daily service between Ben Gurion and New York's JFK airport would be suspended until further notice.

The airline said it had acted with the FAA to "ensure the safety and security of our customers and employees".

United Airlines, which runs two daily flights to Israel out of Newark, New Jersey, also grounded its service.

US Airways, which operates one flight a day between Philadelphia and Tel Aviv, said it would reevaluate the situation regarding future flights.

Elsewhere in North America, Air Canada grounded its flights.

Israel launched a major offensive on July 8 on the Gaza Strip to stop Hamas militants firing rockets into Israel, and the fighting continues.

Palestinian militants have fired more than 2,000 rockets toward Israel, but many have been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defence system.

More than 600 Palestinians, many of them women and children, and 29 Israelis, including 27 soldiers, have been killed in the 15-day conflict.

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