Lufthansa flight ban is 'surrender to terror'
Politicians criticized German flight operators for "surrendering to terror" after they refused on Thursday to resume flights to Tel Aviv, despite a US decision to lift a two-day flight ban to the Israeli city.
The US aviation authority FAA announced early on Thursday it had lifted its 48-hour suspension of American flights to Tel Aviv, which has been the target of increased Palestinian rocket attacks in recent weeks.
The authority took the unusual step of suspending all US flights to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport on Tuesday amid fears that the escalating Gaza conflict could put passenger planes at risk. It said it would continue to monitor the situation and act again if necessary.
German airliners Lufthansa and Air Berlin, however, were among a number of European flight operators still refusing to fly to Israel's second city as heavy fighting continued in Gaza.
Members of the German-Israeli parliamentary group slammed Lufthansa's decision and said they had given in to fear following the shooting down of the MH17 passenger plane last week over Ukraine.
Lufthansa should not ignore any opportunity to resume flights to Israel, head of the group Volker Beck of the Green party told the Rheinische Post newspaper. "It's not a situation that can be put up with for long," he said.
Beck's colleague Gitta Connemann of the CDU went further and called the flight ban a "surrender of the West to terror".
Whilst everything needed to be done to guarantee passenger safety after the MH17 catastrophe, Israel's rocket defence system was adequate to do so, she said.
Other German MPs, such as Kerstin Griese of the SPD have supported the flight ban in the hope that it would put pressure on the Israelis and Palestinians to agree on a ceasefire.
Twenty-three Palestinians were killed on Wednesday night during Israeli ground attacks in the Gaza strip, bringing the total number of Palestinian dead to 718, with a further 4,500 injured since the Israeli offensive began on July 8th.
At least 32 Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians have been killed. Israeli media reported on Thursday that efforts were underway to agree to a five-day humanitarian ceasefire with Hamas.
The Israeli Transport Minister Israel Katz, meanwhile, welcomed the US aviation authority's decision, and said he had been pushing "on all levels" to induce the FAA to lift the ban.
"We explained how secure the skies are over Israel, how safe the airport is," said Katz on Israeli radio. He was also in contact with the Europeans, he added, in the hope that flights would soon resume.
On Wednesday evening, German astronaut Alexander Gerst, who is on the International Space Station, tweeted a photo showing rocket fire over Gaza and Israel.
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