Dan Balilty, Associated Press
JERUSALEM — A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near Israel's main airport Tuesday, wounding one Israeli and prompting all U.S. and some European and Canadian airlines to cancel flights to Tel Aviv — a reflection of high anxiety over air travel after the downing of a Malaysian jet over Ukraine.
It was the latest blow to Israel on a day when it announced that an Israeli soldier went missing following a deadly battle in the Palestinian territory, where the Israelis are fighting Hamas militants in the third conflict in just over five years. With the casualty toll mounting on both sides, the international community has stepped up diplomatic efforts and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon met with Egyptian and Israeli officials in a bid to revive a cease-fire proposal that was rejected by Hamas.
Israel's Transportation Ministry called on the companies to reverse their decision, insisting the Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and saying there is no reason to "hand terror a prize," by halting the flights.
Palestinian militants have fired more than 2,000 rockets toward Israel, and several heading toward the area of Ben-Gurion Airport have been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system, but police spokeswoman Luba Samri said Tuesday's landing was the closet to the airport since fighting began on July 8.
The rocket heavily damaged a house and lightly injured one Israeli in Yehud, a Tel Aviv suburb near the airport, Samri said.
However, international airlines and passengers are growing more anxious about safety since last week, when a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. While Hamas rockets aren't guided missiles, they still can cause massive damage to an aircraft. For instance, unguided mortar fire in Tripoli from a militia batting to control its international airport destroyed a $113 million Airbus A330 over the weekend used by Libya's state-owned Afriqiyah Airways.
The Federal Aviation Administration told U.S. airlines they are prohibited from flying to the Tel Aviv airport in Israel for 24 hours starting Tuesday afternoon "due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza. Later, the European Aviation Safety Agency issued an advisory to airlines saying it "strongly recommends" airlines avoid the airport.
Germany's Lufthansa, Air France, Air Canada and Alitalia canceled flights to Tel Aviv over safety concerns amid the increasing violence. Dutch airline KLM also cancelled Flight 461 from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv because of the unclear situation at and around the airport. Greece's Aegean Airlines also canceled flights from Athens and Iraklio to Tel Aviv on Tuesday and Wednesday, citing "operational reasons."
The disruption to air travel came as Israel is increasingly suffering from the effects of the war in Gaza after nearly two weeks of largely remaining insulated as the air defense system dependably zapped incoming Hamas rockets from the skies and the military successfully repelled infiltration attempts on the ground and from the sea. That has changed since Israel launched a ground operation on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes continued to pummel a wide range of locations in Gaza and diplomatic efforts intensified to end the fighting that has killed at least 609 Palestinians and 29 Israelis — 27 soldiers and two civilians. The U.N. office of humanitarian affairs estimates that at least 75 percent of the Palestinian deaths were civilians, including dozens of children.
The fate of another Israeli soldier who went missing following a deadly battle in the Gaza Strip remained unknown, a defense official said Tuesday.
It was not immediately known if the missing soldier was alive or dead, the Israeli defense official told The Associated Press. The disappearance raised the possibility that he had been captured by Hamas — a nightmare scenario for Israel. In the past, Israel has paid a heavy price in lopsided prisoner swaps to retrieve captured soldiers or remains held by its enemies.
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