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Plane spotted in Israel not welcome back in Lebanon

Transport minister says ‘Wings of Lebanon’ jet will never be allowed to return after it was used by Turkish airline to fly to Tel Aviv

Airplane with Wings of Lebanon livery (CC BY-SA Maarten Visser, Flickr)
Airplane with Wings of Lebanon livery (CC BY-SA Maarten Visser, Flickr)

A Lebanese-operated jet airliner which was flown to Israel by a Turkish company earlier this week will never be allowed to touch down again on Lebanese soil, a senior government minister in Lebanon vowed Thursday.

The Boeing 737 was spotted Wednesday on the tarmac at Israel’s Ben-Gurion international airport bearing the name and colors of the Wings of Lebanon airline, an unusual sight as Israel considers Lebanon an enemy state.

The plane was being used by Turkish Tailwinds Airlines, which owns the jet but had leased it to Wings of Lebanon. The plane had been returned to Turkey for maintenance work and was afterwards pressed into service for a few days by Tailwinds Airlines on regular service between Antalya and Tel Aviv before its scheduled return to Lebanon.

Lebanese Public Works and Transportation minister Ghazi Zeaiter said the incident was a “crime which we totally reject,” Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

Zeiter said there will be a full investigation of the circumstances and that the plane will not be permitted to return to Lebanon.

He was backed up by Fadi Hasan, the director of Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport, who published a statement saying the Lebanese civil aviation authority had already taken the “necessary steps” with the Lebanese airline and that the aircraft will no longer be received at the Beirut airport.

In addition, the Turkish company was asked to remove the Lebanese airline’s logo from the plane, the Hebrew language Ynet website reported.

Hasan stressed that neither the Lebanese authorities nor or the Lebanese airline company were responsible for what happened.

On Wednesday Wings of Lebanon put out a statement blaming Tailwind Airlines for the incident and denouncing the unapproved use of the plane, the state-run Lebanese National News service reported.

“This matter constitutes a trespass of the previously agreed procedures between the two companies,” Wings of Lebanon said. “Any collaboration or communication with the Israeli enemy is a red line for Wings of Lebanon and its personnel, as well as for the rest of the Lebanese airline companies.”

The arrival of the plane in Israel sparked rumors of visiting Lebanese dignitaries or a secret meeting, Ynet reported at the time.

“I rubbed my eyes and thought I was dreaming,” said one airport worker. “I couldn’t understand what was going on. I looked at the passengers but everything seemed completely fine. Then I realized that nothing dramatic was going on.”

Tailwind Airlines operates seven planes and had leased the 17-year-old Boeing 737 seen Wednesday from AerCap since January 2015. Tailwind, in turn, had been leasing the plane to the Wings of Lebanon airline since June 2016.

The plane returned to Antalya in Wednesday afternoon on its regularly scheduled flight.

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