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Israel criticizes flight ban

Spencer, KimballJuly 23, 2014

Israel has condemned a temporary US flight ban to Tel Aviv as rewarding terrorism. Meanwhile, fighting continues to rage in the Gaza Strip as diplomats push for a ceasefire.

US-Regierung erlaubt Fusion von American Airlines und US Airways
Image: Reuters

Israel accused the US of giving into terrorism on Tuesday, after federal regulators barred American carriers from flying into Tel Aviv due to Hamas rocket fire.

"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," Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said in a news release.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibited all US airlines from flying into Ben Gurion for at least 24 hours. The European Aviation Safety Agency also advised all carriers to avoid Tel Aviv "until further notice." German carreir Lufthansa was among those to heed the warning and redirect flights.

These decisions came in response to a Hamas rocket which landed relatively close to the airport.

But Katz called the temporary US ban "unnecessary," saying that Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system provided air cover for flights over Tel Aviv. Hamas rockets are unguided and inaccurate, usually landing in open areas without damage to life or property.

There has been some speculation that the flight ban is a move by Washington to pressure Israel, which has come under fire for scores of civilian deaths during its military offensive in the Gaza Strip. But the US State Department has denied that's the case.

"The FAA's notice was issued to protect American citizens and American carriers," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens."

Ceasefire talks in Cairo

In a flurry of diplomatic activity, US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with Middle Eastern leaders and diplomats in Cairo on Tuesday, in an effort to end the hostilities in the Gaza Strip.

Kerry met with Egypt's leadership, including President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri. The secretary of state later telephoned with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey.

The US has no ties to Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization, and often has to work through its Egyptian, Turkish and Qatari allies.

"Hamas has a fundamental choice to make and it is a choice that will have a profound impact for the people of Gaza," Kerry said.

"The Egyptians have provided a framework and a forum for them to be able to come to the table to have a serious discussion together with other factions of the Palestinians," the secretary said.

Violence continues in Gaza

Hamas has rejected the Egyptian proposal, saying that it does not meet its key conditions. The Islamist group wants hundreds of Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli custody and for the blockade of Gaza to be lifted.

So far, diplomacy has not reduced the violence in the coastal enclave of 1.7 million people. The death toll from Israel's offensive rose to more than 600 Palestinians on Tuesday, most of them civilians. Israel has suffered 29 casualties, including 27 soldiers and two civilians.

The Israeli government says the goal of the offensive is to destroy the network of rocket launchers and tunnels used by Hamas and other Palestinian militants to stage attacks.

slk/av (ap,afp, rtr)