NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The U.S. and European carriers decided to halt flights to Israel Tuesday after a rocket landed near Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv, but some carriers based outside the U.S. went on flying.
Delta Air Lines and United Airlines suspended service between the U.S. and Israel indefinitely Tuesday. US Airways scrapped its one flight to Tel Aviv Tuesday. Several European airlines, including Germany’s Lufthansa and Air France, also suspended flights. The actions come days after a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine with 298 people on board.
Following the action by the U.S. airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a NOTAM, or Notice to Airmen, prohibiting U.S. airlines from flying to the Tel Aviv airport for 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 NOTAM applies only to U.S. operators, and has no authority over foreign airlines operating to or from the airport,” the FAA said in a statement. “The FAA will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation. Updated instructions will be provided to U.S. airlines as soon as conditions permit.”
Earlier Tuesday, a Delta Boeing 747 from New York was flying over the Mediterranean headed for Tel Aviv when it turned around and flew to Paris instead. Flight 468 had 273 passengers and 17 crew on board.
Photos: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
United Airlines canceled its two daily flights to Israel out of Newark Liberty International Airport, according to spokesman Rahsaan Johnson.
“We are suspending operations to/from Tel Aviv until further notice,” said United spokeswoman Jennifer Dohm. “We are working with government officials to ensure the safety of our customers and our employees and will continue to evaluate the situation.”
US Airways canceled its flight to Israel that was due to leave from Philadelphia.
“We are in constant contact with the FAA and are monitoring the situation closely,” said Casey Norton, spokesman for US Airways’ parent company American Airlines. The airline has not yet made a decision about flights to Israel scheduled for Wednesday and beyond.
Israel’s Transportation Ministry called on the airlines to reverse their decision and said it was trying to explain that the airport was “safe for landings and departures.”
“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.
Isaac Yeffet, the former head of security for El Al Israel Airlines, believes that planes should still be flying into Israel despite the rocket strike that landed near the airport, CBS 2’s Alice Gainer reported.
“We need to end this war, but it doesn’t mean that Israel is so weak that the world has to be afraid that Israel will be destroyed,” he said.
Israeli police said a rocket fired from Gaza landed near the airport, damaging a house and wounding one Israeli. Police spokeswomen Luba Samri said Tuesday’s rocket landing was the closest to the airport since fighting began on July 8.
Tova David was on sitting on the tarmac preparing to take off on Tuesday’s midday El-Al flight from Tel Aviv to JFK when she and fellow passengers had to get off the plane and rush into the airport because of the rocket, WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported.
“We had an alarm right before we took off so we had to all run off the flight and get into the airport. I was little nervous to take off but then once when we were in the air I felt fine,” she said.
Airlines and passengers are growing more anxious about safety since last week, when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine Thursday while flying at 33,000 feet. Airlines have rerouted planes to avoid the area over eastern Ukraine where pro-Soviet separatists are battling the Ukrainian army.
But some people said they will be flying to Israel anyway, and do not agree with the FAA’s plan to halt flights. One of those people was former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said flying to Israel remains safe and should not be avoided.
He spoke to reporters at the airport before he took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport.
“I’m not trying to prove anything,” Bloomberg said at the airport. “I’m just trying to show that it’s safe, and a great place to visit, and Israel has a right to defend its people, and they’re doing exactly what they should be doing.”
He said in the earlier statement that the flight restrictions are a concession to Hamas militants.
Teaneck resident Nathan Lindenbaum told CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco that he was unwilling to adjust his travel plans, even as some flights were grounded.
“If we blow this opportunity to go we won’t be able to go again for a while, so I don’t want our vacation ruined and I don’t want my Israeli friends and family to see Americans not coming,” he said.
Lindenbaum said that he thinks the FAA may have overreacted.
“It’s a mistake because it rewards terrorism,” he said, “This will be seen by Hamas as a big victory, the fact that they can get Americans to stop coming to Israel.”
Others felt that the FAA made the right call.
“You worry about all this stuff going on and then it will spill over onto us. You really don’t know,” Leslie Graner said.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country’s ongoing offensive in Gaza would continue “as long as necessary” to end attacks on Israeli civilians.
But Hamas seems defiant, international cease-fire efforts are stalled, and international criticism is becoming more vocal as the death toll among Palestinian civilians rises.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urgently called for a cease-fire, and headed to the region to broker it.
“Hamas has a fundamental choice to make and it is a choice that will have a profound impact for the people of Gaza,” said Kerry, who is holding high-level talks in Cairo.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it is his “hope and belief” that his emergency mission to the Middle East will lead to an end to the fighting “in the very near future.”
Ban told the Security Council on Tuesday by videoconference from the West Bank city of Ramallah that he could not publicly reveal details of talks “at this highly sensitive moment.”
“Suffice it to say it is my hope and belief that these talks will lead to results and an end to the fighting in the very near future,” he said.
As Ban started to address the council a siren could be heard in the background.
The U.N. chief has also visited Qatar, Kuwait, Cairo and Jerusalem in his bid to end the conflict.
Elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are supporting the Israeli military campaign.
“Israel has every right to act,” he said. “The world community has basically backed up its right to act,” he said.
Since fighting began, nearly 600 Palestinians and 30 Israelis have been killed.
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