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FAA orders US airlines to halt Israel flights

U.S. regulators Tuesday ordered domestic airlines to suspend flights to Israel as Palestinian militants fired a rocket near the Tel Aviv airport, and European carriers such as Deutsche Lufthansa also canceled service.

The Federal Aviation Administration imposed a 24-hour no-fly rule after a rocket landed 1 mile from Ben Gurion International Airport on Tuesday. The action halted trips by American, United and Delta airlines, the three biggest U.S. carriers.

Increasingly sophisticated missiles fired from the Hamas- controlled Gaza Strip are putting more of Israel within range of a weeks-long barrage that has triggered air strikes and command raids.

Israel’s Aviation Authority said the Tel Aviv airport last had similar cancellations during Iraq’s Scud missile bombardment during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

“In the old days, some of these missiles wouldn’t have even made it out of Gaza,” said Richard Bloom, director of Terrorism, Intelligence and Security Studies at the Prescott, Arizona, campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “Then they were landing in southern Israel and now they’ve been going farther and farther north.”

For planes, the greatest threat from surface-to-surface weapons like those launched from Gaza would be blast damage while on the ground.

That differentiates them from systems like the radar-guided Buk missile linked to the shoot-down over Ukraine of Malaysian Air Flight 17, which uses radar guidance to track and destroy aircraft in flight.

Israeli Transport Minister Israel Katz said Ben Gurion remains safe, according to that country’s Aviation Authority. A text message from the agency cited Katz as saying that a suspension of flying would “give a prize to terror.”

Air France joined the roster of airlines halting Israel service, Agence France-Presse reported, with a 36-hour pause in operations. Cologne, Germany-based Lufthansa suspended flights for 48 hours, said a spokesman, Nils Haupt.

United parent United Continental Holdings and Delta Air Lines said they were suspending flights until further notice, while American Airlines Group said only that it was scrubbing one round-trip Tuesday between Philadelphia and Ben Gurion International.

The FAA said it would update U.S. airlines within 24 hours on the status of the no-fly restriction.

The agency 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 State Department issued a travel warning Monday asking U.S. citizens to reconsider any nonessential travel to Israel and the West Bank.

More than 570 Palestinians and at least 29 Israelis have been killed during the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and Israeli air strikes on the area that escalated July 8.