American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, the three biggest U.S. carriers traveling to Israel, canceled flights there as rocket attacks by Palestinian militants threatened the Tel Aviv airport.
Federal Aviation Administration told U.S. carriers not to fly to Tel Aviv for 24 hours.
United and Delta said they were suspending flights until further notice, while American said only that it was scrubbing one round-trip today between Philadelphia and Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International.
Delta diverted Flight 468, a Boeing Co. 747 carrying 273 passengers and 17 crew members from New York’s Kennedy Airport, to Paris after “reports of a rocket or associated debris” near Ben Gurion Airport, according to the airline’s website. United suspended twice-daily flights to Tel Aviv from New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport.
Militants from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have been firing rockets into Israel for weeks, triggering clashes with the Israeli military as the country tries to halt the barrage. More than 570 Palestinians and at least 29 Israelis have been killed during the rocket fire and air strikes on the Gaza Strip that escalated July 8.
Ben Gurion Airport remains safe for landings and takeoffs, Israel’s aviation authority said. According to a text message from the agency, Transport Minister Israel Katz said there was no reason for the U.S. airlines to stop flying and “give a prize to terror.”
The suspensions by United Continental Holdings Inc.’s United and Delta are in effect until further notice, spokesmen for the carriers said without giving a timetable. Atlanta-based Delta said it was acting in conjunction with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
“The FAA will not allow us to transport customers on this flight, which is operating with a special waiver,” Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines Group Inc. said in a statement about its service from Philadelphia, which is operated by the US Airways unit.
An FAA spokeswoman, Kristie Greco, said the agency didn’t have an immediate response to questions about Israel flights. However, the New York Times reported that the carriers were told by the FAA to halt all flights for 24 hours.
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The FAA also prohibits U.S. carriers from flying over Libya and parts of Ethiopia. Last week it also barred flights over the areas of eastern Ukraine after the Flight 17 shoot-down.
The cancellations come at a time when airlines are much more wary of flying over conflict areas following last week's downing of a Malaysia jetliner over Ukraine.
The State Department issued a travel warning yesterday asking U.S. citizens to reconsider any non-essential travel to Israel and the West Bank.
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