Passengers queue for limited flights out of Israel as fighting rages

Air strikes and rocket attacks disrupt air travel as troops prepare for possible ground operation

Departing passengers roll their suitcases at the nearly deserted Ben Gurion airport in Lod, Tel Aviv. AFP
Departing passengers roll their suitcases at the nearly deserted Ben Gurion airport in Lod, Tel Aviv. AFP

A small number of passengers at Tel Aviv airport prepared to leave Israel on Thursday as the conflict with Gaza militants intensified.

Israel’s aviation authority had to reroute and cancel numerous flights as rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave targeted the capital and surrounding areas.

“We were in the bunker one hour ago, because of the attacks, but I think we are protected very well here,” said Andre Valenta, 28, who hoped to travel home to Dubai after cutting short a business trip.

“Because the situation got worse we had to get out.

“We saw a couple of rockets, so there is no reason for us to stay here,” he said, but would return to Israel in a few days if the security situation improves.

In the airport, the departures board was dotted with red cancellation notes beside flights to Amsterdam, Frankfurt and London, while yellow signs pointed to bomb shelters.

“Like other airlines, we have cancelled our flights to and from Tel Aviv today. The safety and security of our colleagues and customers is always our top priority, and we continue to monitor the situation closely,” British Airways said.

A departing passenger at the nearly deserted Ben Gurion airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, on May 13. AFP
A departing passenger at the nearly deserted Ben Gurion airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, on May 13. AFP

At the departures lounge, a French-Israeli couple was trying to board a plane to Paris a day after their flight was cancelled.

“[We spend] half the time here [in Israel] and half the time in Paris, so we are going back home,” said the female passenger, 72, who declined to give her name.

While living in Tel Aviv, they had been waiting for flights to resume after a pandemic-related airport closure this year.

“We Israelis are used to war, to war and all kinds of situations. So we live our lives ... there’s nothing we can do,” she said.

Since Monday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel launched nearly 1,000 strikes on Gaza.

At least 83 Gazans and seven Israel residents were killed and hundreds wounded.

Israel’s military estimated that about 1,750 rockets were fired from the Palestinian territory.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, said it fired a rocket at Ramon airport on Thursday.

A spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing called on “international airlines to immediately cease their flights to any airport” in Israel.

Despite international calls for an end to the violence, there are fears the conflict could erupt into a ground war, as happened in 2014.

“We have the ground troops that have been told to prepare,” military spokesman Jonathan Conricus told The National.

The last conflict lasted 50 days and killed 2,256 Palestinians, including 1,563 civilians, according to UN figures. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed.

Updated: May 14, 2021 03:01 PM

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