A Tel Aviv-bound flight from Vienna was forced to return to Austria as a result of a heavy sandstorm blanketing Israel on Sunday.
The extreme dusty and hazy conditions throughout Israel and the eastern Mediterranean were the result of strong winds bringing in sand from the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, resulting in unseasonably warm and dry weather.
According to Channel 2, the plane was flying near Cyprus when it was forced to turn around as a result of the sandstorm.
A representative from the Israel Airports Authority told Channel 2 that it did not issue any prohibitions on flights taking off from and landing at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv and that the decision to turn around was made solely by the airplane operator.
Ynet said that it was a plane operated by Austrian Airlines.
As a result of the weather conditions, air pollution levels throughout Israel were much higher than normal. In the southern city of Arad, the air pollution was at 11 times its normal level, in Jerusalem, eight times, and in Tel Aviv and northern Israel five times the normal level, according to Channel 2.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection issued a statement early Sunday morning warning that individuals with heightened sensitivity, including those with heart and lung diseases, pregnant women and small children, should avoid spending time outside on Sunday. Healthy individuals should also avoid intensive physical exercise outdoors during the day.
Rain was expected in the afternoon, but will be concentrated in the Galilee and other parts of the country’s north, turning into thunderstorms by evening.
The hamsin, or hot, sandy windstorm, is expected to ease nationwide overnight, with light rain and cooler temperatures in the north expected to move southward.