The US Federal Aviation Administration issued a rare 24-hour ban on all flights from America to Israel's only public international airport on Tuesday afternoon, following reports that a rocket fired by Palestinian militants landed near the airport. Only three US airliners have service to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv — Delta, United, and US Airways — meaning that all American flights to the country are effectively grounded for at least a day during the height of tourism season, as The New York Times points out.
Several European airlines, including Air France and Lufthansa out of Germany, also said they were temporarily halting flights to Ben Gurion following the FAA ban, as the Times of Israel reported. The European Aviation Safety Agency, the main air travel regulatory body of the European Union, also issued a statement saying it "strongly recommends" airlines avoid Tel Aviv.
The unusual moves came hours after Delta diverted a New York City flight destined for Israel to Paris instead, citing reports of "a rocket or associated debris" near the airport, and six days after the Israeli military began a ground invasion of Gaza to combat rocket fire from Palestinian militants. To date, 27 Israeli soldiers and over 600 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, according to theTimes of Israel. Although not directly cited in any airline's cancellation decision, the temporary restrictions also came six days after the commercial Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was brought down by a missile strike over a conflict zone in the Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard.
Prior to the FAA ban on flights to Israel, several US airlines had voluntarily halted flights to the country. Israel's transportation minister released a statement to the Times of Israel saying that Ben Gurion International Airport was safe and that US airliners should not stop their flights in and out of the country, "thus hand[ing] a prize to terrorism." Palestinian militants led by Hamas have fired over 2,000 rockets during the latest round of fighting, and Hamas said last week it would begin firing rockets near the airport. The rocket that precipitated the airline cancellations damaged an Israeli home in Yehud, a suburb of Tel Aviv, injuring one, according to The Associated Press.
Update: German airline Lufthansa is extending its flight ban through Thursday as the situation develops.
Update July 23rd, 12:55AM ET: The FAA continued its ban through Wednesday, continuing to cite the "potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza." Time's Zeke Miller reported the flight ban's extension.
Update July 24th, 12:15AM ET: The FAA has now lifted the ban, effective as of approximately 30 minutes ago. The administration says it "worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation."