European and US airlines cancel flights to Israel

Decision made after rocket fired from Gaza lands near Israel's Ben-Gurion airport

Palestinians take cover as warning Israeli air strikes are fired at a nearby building in Gaza City yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Finbarr O’Reilly

Palestinians take cover as warning Israeli air strikes are fired at a nearby building in Gaza City yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Finbarr O’Reilly

Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 01:00

American and major European airlines last night cancelled all flights to and from Israel for at least 24 hours after shrapnel from a rocket fired from Gaza damaged a home in the town of Yehud, close to Ben-Gurion International Airport.

The decision was a major blow to Israel and is expected to seriously damage the tourist industry, already hit hard after two weeks of fighting in Gaza. Transport minister Yisrael Katz called on aviation companies to return to normal functioning, stressing that Ben-Gurion airport was safe for take-offs and landings, and that there was no security concern for passenger planes.

Last night Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked US secretary of state John Kerry to help restore US commercial flights to the country, an Israeli official said.

Pounded targets

Israel pounded targets across Gaza and militant rocket fire into Israel continued yesterday, as international efforts to end the bloodshed appeared to be deadlocked.

Israeli air strikes destroyed several mosques, dozens of buildings and a stadium. A particularly heavy bombardment started last night against targets in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.

Israel has so far uncovered 23 offensive tunnels built by Hamas for militants to infiltrate into Israel. The exact number of such tunnels is unknown but the army believes the majority have already been discovered.

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, in talks in Jerusalem with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, proposed an immediate open-ended humanitarian ceasefire. However, Mr Netanyahu gave no indication that Israel was about to end its military campaign, saying Israel will “act decisively to end the threat to its citizens”.

Mr Ban condemned the rocket attacks on Israeli civilians but urged an end to the violence. “Stop fighting, start talking and take on the root causes of the conflict so we are not at the same situation in another six months or a year.”

‘Constructive’ talks

US secretary of state John Kerry also called for an immediate ceasefire after talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

He told reporters the talks had been constructive and he urged Hamas to accept the Egyptian ceasefire proposals.

However, Egypt and Hamas remain at loggerheads and an agreement does not appear imminent.

Cairo drew up truce proposals before Israel launched its ground offensive last Thursday and is reluctant to introduce changes demanded by Hamas. Hamas leaders insist on a broader deal that will involve commitments from both Egypt and Israel to open border crossings to Gaza, and the release of West Bank militants arrested in recent weeks.

Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shukri raised the possibility of restarting stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as part of a wider ceasefire agreement.

An Israeli soldier, Sgt Oron Shaul (21), who was in an armoured personnel carrier that was blown up by an anti-tank missile in Gaza on Sunday, has been declared missing and is presumed dead. Hamas on Sunday announced it had captured a soldier and it is believed they are holding Sgt Shaul’s body.

More than 600 Palestinians and 29 Israelis have been killed in the fighting, now in its 16th day.