General airport strike called after Israeli lawmakers OK ‘open skies’ agreement

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Cabinet approved an “Open Skies” agreement with the European Union hours after employees of three Israeli airlines went on strike over the deal.

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The European-Mediterranean Sea (“Open Skies”) aviation agreement approved Sunday would allow European airlines to increase their flights to Israel for five years, which could substantially decrease the costs of airline tickets for Israeli travelers to Europe.

Israel’s Histadrut labor union says the deal could mean thousands of layoffs by the three airlines: El Al, Arkia and Israir.

Employees from the three airlines picketed outside the Knesset during the vote.

The airlines went on strike at 5 a.m. on Sunday. Dozens of flights by the three airlines were moved up to avoid the strike deadline.

“The goal of the reform that we approved today is to lower the prices of flights to and from Israel and to increase incoming tourism,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday following the agreement’s passage.

El Al stock dropped 7 percent on Sunday following the start of the strike and the passage of the agreement.

The agreement was initially signed by the Israeli Civil Aviation Authority and the European Commission in July 2012, following three years of negotiations.

There are 53 takeoffs and 38 landings, affecting 15,591 passengers, on the three Israeli airlines scheduled for Sunday at Ben Gurion airport, Haaretz reported, citing the Israel Airports Authority.

Israel’s Channel 10 on Saturday night reported on an internal Transportation Ministry report that warned that El Al could collapse in the wake of an open skies agreement.

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