FAA extends Ben Gurion Airport ban another 24 hours

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Federal Aviation Administration extended for another day its ban on flights to Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.

The U.S. agency said, however, that it had received “significant new information” from Israel that could influence its decision.

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“The agency is working closely with the Government of Israel to review the significant new information they have provided and determine whether potential risks to U.S. civil aviation are mitigated so the agency can resolve concerns as quickly as possible,” the FAA said Wednesday in its announcement on the ban’s extension.

The statement did not outline the “new information.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the FAA for extending the ban, which was launched Tuesday after a rocket landing near the airport led at least two commercial carriers to cancel flights to Israel.

“There’s no reason whatsoever for the mistaken FAA decision to instruct American planes not to come here,” Netanyahu said at an appearance Wednesday with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who flew into Israel to protest the ban. “I think this decision only rewards the Hamas terrorists for nothing.

“You can fly in and out of Israel, and I hope that the FAA rescinds this decision as soon as possible,” the Israeli leader said.

Israeli officials have said they understand the ban is a procedural decision.

“Our aviation officials are in contact with the FAA, and we are confident that after they learn all the facts, they will resume flights,” Aaron Sagui, the Israel Embassy spokesman in Washington, said in a statement.

Such reassurances did not altogether stop speculation that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry initiated the ban to penalize Israel, although there was no evidence of such an animus.

“Was this a safety issue, or was it using a federal regulatory agency to punish Israel to try to force them to comply with Secretary Kerry’s demand that Israel stop their military effort to take out Hamas’s rocket capacity?” Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked in a release.

Netanyahu has so far accepted U.S.-backed cease-fire proposals; Hamas has rejected them.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also called for a removal of the ban.

“Hamas wants to destroy Israel, but also the United States and the values both countries share,” the umbrella body said in a statement Wednesday. “We should not encourage them by invoking a ban on air flights.”

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