The Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to temporarily ban all U.S. airlines from flying to or from Tel Aviv continued to reverberate in Israel Wednesday, with the Israeli transportation minister calling it a “prize to terror” and the Israeli media calling it an “air blockade” and a “boycott.”
The FAA announced Wednesday it was extending its original ban for another 24 hours.
“We will continue to run normal civilian air travel. We won’t give a prize to Hamas in that it will harm normal life in Israel,” Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said.
European and Canadian airlines canceled flights en masse following the FAA decision, which was made following a rocket strike near Ben Gurion International Airport Tuesday.
The subject was featured prominently in the Israeli media Wednesday, with reporters referring to the outcome as an “air blockade” and a “boycott.”
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg boarded an El Al flight to Tel Aviv to protest the FAA’s decision.
“The flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately,” Bloomberg said in a statement.
The European Aviation Safety Agency decided after the FAA announcement that it would recommend European airlines not fly to Tel Aviv “until further notice.”
British Airways was one of the few major airlines continuing to fly to and from Israel Wednesday.
Israeli airlines including El Al added flights to Europe to rescue travelers stranded en route, Israel Army Radio reported. Katz said that he was considering sending boats to Cyprus to rescue Israeli travelers who made it there, if needed.
Israel is concerned the U.S. government decision sends a message to Hamas that it has the power to shut down Israeli air travel and thus strike a huge blow to the economy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to Secretary of State John Kerry, who landed in Israel Tuesday despite the flight ban, to ask the FAA to reverse its decision, Israeli media reported.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the decision had been based solely on safety concerns “to protect American citizens and American carriers. The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens.”
If air travel continues to be affected, Netanyahu’s government will face increased pressure to end its offensive on Hamas before it dismantles the infiltration tunnels from Gaza, its chief objective.