Dozens of flights canceled as rocket fire disrupts Israeli air travel

International carriers scrap flights amid violence, but Israeli airlines still flying; services could resume later in the week, depending on developments

Screen capture for the arrivals flight board at Ben Gurion Airport, May 16, 2021. (Ben Gurion Airport)
Screen capture for the arrivals flight board at Ben Gurion Airport, May 16, 2021. (Ben Gurion Airport)

Most foreign airlines have canceled their flights to and from Israel due to the rocket fire at the country from terrorists in the Gaza Strip, with only a handful of planes not operated by Israeli carriers now leaving or arriving.

Airlines pulled out of Israel despite arrangements made last week for incoming flights to land at the Ramon International Airport in the south instead of the main international terminus at Ben Gurion International Airport, after a number of rocket barrages fired from Gaza targeted Ben Gurion, near Tel Aviv. Passengers disembark at Ramon and board buses back to the center of the country; meanwhile, the empty planes fly to Ben Gurion and take on new passengers before departing to their destinations abroad.

The decision was meant to broaden the air corridor taken by passenger flights in and out of the country and to minimize the numbers of passenger-filled planes on the ground at any one place, in order to lower the chances that rocket fire from Gaza will hit a plane.

On Thursday, though, Hamas said it had targeted Ramon Airport amid a barrage in the direction of Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat, using a rocket it claimed could strike anywhere in Israel.

Airplanes at Ben Gurion International Airport, on May 7, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

For the most part, the cancellations covered flights that were scheduled through Tuesday.

The Ben Gurion flight board on Sunday showed that from May 19 many airlines still have flights scheduled.

Last week, US carriers United, American, and Delta all said they were halting service and offered to waive change fees on flights booked until May 25. Air France, British Airways, Virgin and other airlines have all also said they were stopping flights.

Airlines are reportedly are keeping a close eye on developments and are ready to adjust schedules accordingly. Some reports have said that Hamas terror group officials have indicated they were ready for a ceasefire, and Israeli officials on Sunday indicated it was under consideration. Meanwhile, the exchange of fire continues.

Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on May 7, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

The cancellations of flights came just as Israel was on the cusp of being one of the most unrestricted destinations or departure points in the world from the aspect of coronavirus-related limitations.

A mass inoculation program that has already vaccinated over half the Israeli population brought down daily infection rates from thousands at the beginning of the year to just dozens.

Earlier this month, Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said that his country was planning to drop quarantine requirements for visitors from Israel, among other departure points. And Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that from Monday, Britons would be able to visit Israel without having to quarantine on their return.

Medical technicians test passengers for COVID-19 at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)

The EU has also added Israel to a European Union safe list for countries it says should be allowed to freely travel to Europe for tourism, according to a statement this month.

Israel, which has a significant foreign tourism industry, was planning to open its borders to vaccinated or recovered tourists from 14 destinations starting May 23, which may be at risk after fighting between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip flared up last week.

Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have fired over 2,500 rockets at Israel since the outbreak of fighting on Monday, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Barrages have targeted southern and central Israel, the latter the location of Ben Gurion Airport.

Israel has responded with airstrikes against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip.

Ten Israelis, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, have been killed in the rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured. Rocket fire continued on Sunday.

In Gaza, the Palestinian toll from the fighting reached 174 on Sunday, including dozens of children, with over 1,000 wounded, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher and that dozens of those killed were terrorists. In addition, the IDF says some deaths were caused by errant rockets fired at Israel that fell short of their targets and landed in the Strip.

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