NEWS

Gaza conflict: FAA lifts ban of flights to Tel Aviv

07/23/2014 03:11 EDT | Updated 09/21/2014 05:59 EDT
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration lifted its ban on all flight to Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport late Wednesday night.

The cancellation went into effect at 11:45 p.m. ET.

"Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation," said the FAA in a statement released online.

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The ban was initially instituted on Tuesday, after a rocket hit about two kilometres from the boundaries of the airport. The FAA extended that ban for a second day earlier on Wednesday.

On both Tuesday and Wednesday, Air Canada, the only Canadian carrier that flies to Israel, cancelled its daily flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv.

It was not immediately clear Wednesday night if Air Canada flights to Ben Gurion would resume Thursday, but an airline spokeswomen told CBC News earlier that the airline was constantly reviewing the situation on the ground in Israel. 

U.S. carriers and Air Canada were joined by a host of other airlines in suspending flights to Israel this week, including:

- LOT Polish Airlines

- Lufthansa (Germany)

- Alitalia (Italy)

- Air France

- Scandinavian Airlines

- Norwegian Air

- Royal Jordanian Airlines

- Korean Air

Israeli officials slammed the cancellations as an overreaction that rewards Hamas, and Israel's own El Al airline continued flying in and out of Ben Gurion throughout the duration of the FAA's ban. 

Some progress made

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met for the second time this week with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, flew into Tel Aviv on an air force jet, despite the FAA ban, reflecting his determination to broker a truce in a war that has killed at least 684 Palestinians and 31 Israelis.

He held meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce.

In Jerusalem, Kerry said negotiations toward a Gaza ceasefire agreement were making some progress.

"We certainly have made steps forward," Kerry said, adding, "There's still work to be done."

Kerry made no comments after meeting with Netanyahu for nearly two hours in Tel Aviv and immediately returned to Cairo. 

An Egyptian official said he expected a humanitarian truce to go into effect by the weekend, in time for the Eid al-Fitr festival, Islam's biggest annual celebration that follows the fasting month of Ramadan.

However, a senior U.S. official played down the Egyptian official's confidence that there would be a truce during Eid, saying this was a U.S. hope but it was by no means locked in.

"It would not be accurate to say that we expect a ceasefire by the weekend," said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken, meanwhile, said Hamas must be denied the ability to "rain down rockets on Israeli civilians."

"One of the results, one would hope, of a ceasefire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn't continue, doesn't repeat itself," Blinken said in an interview with NPR. "That needs to be the end result."

The Hamas leader, however, rejected that idea.

"Some are talking under the table about disarming the resistance. No one can take away the resistance's arms," Khaled Mashaal ​said. 

'War crimes' accusations at UN

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights meanwhile warned both sides against targeting civilians and said war crimes may have been committed.

​Navi Pillay noted an Israeli drone strike that killed three children and wounded two others while they were playing on the roof of their home. She also referenced Israeli fire that struck seven children playing on Gaza beach, killing four from the same family.

"These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes," Pillay told the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, saying such incidents should be investigated.

Elsewhere at the UN, a statement released by a spokesperson for the secretary general on Wednesday expressed "alarm" and "outrage" at yesterday's discovery of 20 rockets in a Gaza school operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. The rockets subsequently went missing.

"Those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children, UN employees working in such facilities, and anyone using the UN schools as shelter," the statement reads.

It also notes that the UN Mine Action Service has been directed to send "personnel with expertise" to deal with the situation.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird had also called for an immediate UN investigation on Tuesday.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, a 34-year-old Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

Even before the flight cancellations, the conflict was taking its toll on the Israeli economy. Military and finance ministry officials have said that the first 10 days of the operation had direct costs of about two billion shekels — about $628 million.

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