NEW YORK — The U.S. airlines serving Israel resumed flights there Thursday, after a two-day hiatus caused by combat in the Gaza Strip.
The decision came hours after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lifted a prohibition on U.S. flights in and out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. The FAA’s ban, imposed out of concern for the risk of planes being hit by Hamas rockets, became a hot-button topic in both U.S.-Israeli diplomacy and Washington politics.
“The decision comes after careful internal consideration and input from high levels in government including the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation,” Delta said in a statement. A Delta 747 turned around Tuesday on its way to Tel Aviv after a rocket landed near the airport. US Airways and United followed by canceling their flights, and the FAA instituted its ban.
The Israeli government said the airlines and regulators overreacted. The Transportation Ministry called on the companies to reverse their decision, insisting the airport was safe and completely guarded and saying there was no reason to “hand terror a prize,” by halting the flights.
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The ban filtered into discussions in Jerusalem about a Gaza cease-fire that included U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In the United States, Sen. Ted Cruz accused President Obama of using the flight ban to impose an economic boycott of Israel while it is fighting the Hamas in Gaza.
The airlines wouldn’t say what has changed to make Tel Aviv safer than it had been 24 hours earlier. Robert Isom, chief operating officer of US Airways’ parent American Airlines, said, “We feel very comfortable with the information that we have right now. We’re doing the right thing, and feel very comfortable that our employees and our customers are safe.”
Last year, an average of 1,044 passengers flew each way on the four daily flights between the United States and Israel on American carriers, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Israeli airline El Al maintained its five daily flights from the United States to Tel Aviv throughout the ban, which only applied to American carriers.