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Israel to underwrite airlines flying to Russia due to sanctions over Ukraine war

Treasury source says financial guarantees to be extended for Israeli carriers because they can’t get regular insurance; most Western airlines boycotting Russia

In this illustrative file photo from March 10, 2020, El Al planes are parked at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
In this illustrative file photo from March 10, 2020, El Al planes are parked at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

AFP — Israel was poised Tuesday to extend financial guarantees for its airlines to fly into Russia, raising criticism in Kyiv as most Western airlines boycott Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

A source in the Finance Ministry who spoke anonymously to freely discuss pending decisions told AFP the office would seek to extend underwriting put in place last week for Israeli airlines flying into Russia that are not eligible for their regular insurance because of current sanctions.

The $2 billion guarantee had been set to expire on March 9.

The European Union, Canada and the United States have suspended flights to Russia and closed their airspace to Russian aircraft as part of sanctions.

Air links are still open from other countries to and from Russia, including Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has not joined the sanctions as he attempts to balance warm relations between both Kyiv and Ukraine.

Bennett flew to Moscow on Saturday, breaking the observance of Shabbat in an effort to mediate between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

A misunderstanding over Israel’s continued flights into Russia caused a diplomatic flap.

On Tuesday Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba apologized and corrected himself after tweeting that Israel’s national carrier El Al was still accepting Russia’s Mir payment system.

“While the world sanctions Russia for its barbaric atrocities in Ukraine, some prefer to make money soaked in Ukrainian blood. Here is @EL_AL_ISRAEL accepting payments in Russian banking system ‘Mir’ designed to evade sanctions,” Kuleba wrote a day earlier, posting an undated screen shot of El Al’s checkout page.

A spokesperson for El Al told AFP that the airline stopped accepting Mir payments four days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

“EL AL has blocked the use of the Mir credit card as of February 28, 2022,” the airline said in a statement, adding that it had delivered humanitarian supplies destined for Ukraine and evacuated those fleeing war.

Kuleba acknowledged the use of Mir was blocked. “I am grateful to El Al for its important humanitarian operations and convey my apologies,” he wrote.

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