The US Department of Transportation has demanded that Israel allow US airlines to fly rescue flights for stranded Israelis, or it will prevent El Al flights from landing in the United States, Channel 12 reported Saturday.
Israel’s land and air gateways have been largely closed since January 25, with Ben Gurion Airport shuttered for all but a few special flights by Israeli airlines to return Israelis stranded abroad.
According to the report, the US is warning that current Israeli policy, which allows only Israeli airlines to fly the routes, is against aviation agreements between the nations.
The report said that a message had been sent from the Biden administration to Jerusalem saying that American planes should be allowed to fly the routes, in addition to Israeli carriers, to prevent a potential crisis between the two countries.
Israel fears the UK will threaten similar sanctions, according to the report.
An emergency Transportation Ministry meeting on the matter is expected to be held Sunday.
As for the general closure of the airport, Health Ministry officials told Channel 13 News they don’t plan on recommending the airport reopen for at least another month.
The government has been increasing its precautionary measures in recent weeks in order to prevent a widespread outbreak of the highly contagious British and South African variants of the coronavirus.
Citizens who left the country before January 25 and have since been stranded abroad are allowed to return to the country but are immediately taken to quarantine hotels upon arrival. They remain there for two weeks, or ten days if they test negative twice within a set number of days.
However, the number of flights, currently operated by El Al, is limited and only flies a few select routes.
Recent days have seen a slow but consistent decline in daily new coronavirus infections in Israel, as the effects of the lengthy lockdown and the vaccination campaign are felt.
According to Health Ministry figures Saturday evening, Israel recorded 4,595 new coronavirus infections on Friday, out of 67,143 tests performed. Meanwhile, 992 patients were listed in serious condition, including 296 who were on ventilators. The death toll climbed to 5,340 as of Saturday evening, according to ministry figures.
As of Saturday evening, 3,820,505 people in Israel received the first of two vaccine shots, while 2,453,631 got the second.