JERUSALEM – A Hamas rocket exploded Tuesday near Israel’s main airport, prompting a ban on all flights from the U.S. and many from Europe and Canada as aviation authorities responded to the shock of seeing a civilian jetliner shot down over Ukraine.
Israel declared that Ben-Gurion Airport was safe and said there was no reason to hand terror a prize by halting flights.
The rare flight ban came as Israel grappled with news that a soldier went missing after an attack in the Gaza Strip, raising the possibility he was abducted, a scenario that could complicate diplomatic efforts to end the two-week conflict.
Palestinian militants have fired more than 2,000 rockets toward Israel since fighting began July 8, but most – including several heading toward Tel Aviv – fell harmlessly into open areas or were shot out of the sky by the Iron Dome defense system, keeping Israeli casualties low.
Tuesday’s rocket attack was the closest to the airport so far, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said, and destroyed a house, slightly injuring one Israeli in the nearby Tel Aviv suburb of Yehud.
Aviation authorities reacted swiftly. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration prohibited U.S. airlines from flying to Tel Aviv for 24 hours due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza. Later, the European Aviation Safety Agency issued an advisory saying it strongly recommends airlines avoid the airport.
Germany’s Lufthansa, Air France, Air Canada, Alitalia, Dutch KLM, Britain’s easyJet, Turkish Airlines and Greece’s Aegean Airlines were among those carriers canceling flights to Tel Aviv over safety concerns amid the increasing violence.
Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz called on the U.S. aviation authority to reconsider, calling the flight ban unnecessary and saying Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system provided cover for civil aviation.
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, his office said.
However, international airlines and passengers have grown more anxious about safety since last week, when a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. While Hamas rockets aren’t guided missiles, they still can cause massive damage to an aircraft.
The Tel Aviv airport is Israel’s main gateway to the world and Hamas militants have said they hoped to target it to disrupt life in Israel.
Another Hamas objective was to abduct an Israeli soldier, and Israeli fears over such an occurrence were revisited Tuesday when the military announced that a soldier was missing after a deadly battle in Gaza, where the Israelis are fighting Hamas militants in the third such war in just over five years.