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U.S., European airlines put flights to Israel on hold

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In a sign of increased caution about flying near combat zones, U.S. and European airlines halted flights to Israel on Tuesday after a rocket landed near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.

Delta Air Lines and United Airlines suspended service between the United States and Israel indefinitely. US Airways scrapped its one flight to Tel Aviv Tuesday. Germany’s Lufthansa and Air France also suspended flights. The actions come days after a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine with 298 people on board.

United Airlines jets are shown Tuesday at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J.  (Julio Cortez/The Associated Press)

United Airlines jets are shown Tuesday at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J. (Julio Cortez/The Associated Press)

Following the action by the U.S. airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration prohibited U.S. airlines from flying to the Tel Aviv airport for 24 hours.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue of the ban with Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in the Middle East on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

“The FAA’s notice was issued to protect American citizens and American carriers. The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens,” Psaki said in a statement. “The FAA continues to monitor and evaluate the situation, and will issue updated guidelines within 24 hours of the time the notice went into effect, she said.

In its notice to airlines, the FAA said that “due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza, all flight operations to/from Ben Gurion International Airport by U.S. operators are prohibited until further advised.” The Hamas rocket strike landed about 1 mile from the airport, the agency said.

The notice applies only to U.S. airlines since the FAA has no authority over carriers from other nations.

The Israelis are fighting Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in the third war in just over 5 years. Israeli police confirmed that a rocket from Gaza landed in an area near the airport. Police spokeswomen Luba Samri said Tuesday’s rocket landing was the closest to the airport since fighting began July 8.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday while flying at 33,000 feet. Some experts have second-guessed the airline’s decision to fly over an area where pro-Russian separatists are battling the Ukrainian army. But Malaysian officials have countered that the plane’s path from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was approved by international regulators.

A traveler views a departures board Tuesday at the Philadelphia International Airport. U.S. airlines were prohibited from flying to the Tel Aviv airport in Israel for 24 hours. (Matt Rourke/The Associated Press)

A traveler views a departures board Tuesday at the Philadelphia International Airport. U.S. airlines were prohibited from flying to the Tel Aviv airport in Israel for 24 hours. (Matt Rourke/The Associated Press)

Aviation and legal experts said Tuesday that airlines are now taking risk assessment into their own hands, both for the safety of passengers and to avoid claims of negligence.

Aviation consultant Robert Mann said airlines are becoming more proactive in the wake of the Flight 17 disaster.

“It’s really forcing every carrier, every business jet operator to do their own due diligence, do their own risk assessment, given the geopolitical situation,” Mann said.

Jonathan Reiter, a prominent New York aviation-accident attorney, said flying into an airport after a near-miss by a rocket could be used to show that the airline was negligent. That explains why airlines are suspending service to Israel.

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