FAA halts US flights to Israel after rocket strike

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The Federal Aviation Administration is barring U.S. carriers from flying to Israel for the next 24 hours after rocket fire diverted aircraft near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International airport.

"At 12:15 EST on July 22, 2014, the FAA issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) informing U.S. airlines that they are prohibited from flying to or from Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport for a period of up to 24 hours,” said the agency in a statement Tuesday. 

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“The notice was issued in response to a rocket strike which landed approximately one mile from Ben Gurion International Airport on the morning of July 22, 2014,” FAA continued, adding that U.S. carriers were notified “immediately” after the agency learned of the attack.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the FAA decision Tuesday evening, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Psaki said the FAA's notice was issued "to protect American citizens and American carriers. The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens."

The rocket strike led a Delta Air Lines flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to be diverted to Paris.

The FAA said their notice applied only to “U.S. operators, and has no authority over foreign airlines operating to or from the airport.”

“The FAA will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation,” the agency said. “Updated instructions will be provided to U.S. airlines as soon as conditions permit, but no later than 24 hours from the time the NOTAM went into force." 

The development comes as violence between Israel and Hamas worsened this week following an Israeli ground invasion into Gaza. The fighting has left hundreds dead as the international community scrambles to negotiate a cease-fire.

Earlier Tuesday, a trio of major U.S. airlines announced they were suspending their flights to Tel Aviv until further notice. Delta, U.S. Airways and United Airlines each issued travel advisories to passengers.

“Delta has suspended service until further notice to and from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and its New York-JFK hub,” Delta Airlines said in a statement. “Delta, in coordination with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, is doing so to ensure the safety and security of our customers and employees.” 

Delta said Tuesday that it “continues to work closely with U.S. and other government resources to monitor the situation” in Israel.  

“A customer waiver for travel to Tel Aviv is in effect and published on delta.com,” the company said.

US Air and United followed suit, announcing they would suspend flights to Israel until July 31.

The Middle East conflict is only the latest international incident to alter airline operations this month.

Delta said earlier this week that it was also avoiding flying over Ukraine after a Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down in territory controlled by pro-Russian separatist militias. 

U.S. officials say evidence suggests the airliner was downed by a surface-to-air missile system likely provided by Russia.

“Out of an abundance of caution, Delta Air Lines is not routing flights through Ukrainian airspace and is monitoring the situation involving Malaysia Airlines Flight 17,” the Atlanta-based airline said after the Thursday crash. 

“The flight was not a codeshare with Delta, and Delta does not operate any service that flies over the region of Ukraine that was the subject of an FAA security advisory,” Delta continued. 

This story was updated at 6:54 p.m.