Air France asks passengers for refuel cash at Damascus stop
PARIS Aug 16 (Reuters) - The crew of an Air France plane that was re-routed via Damascus on Wednesday asked passengers how much cash they could stump up after Syrian authorities refused credit card payment to refuel the aircraft, the French airline said on Thursday.
Ultimately it found an alternative arrangement, it said.
The plane that was headed for Beirut on Wednesday night was diverted due to civil unrest in the Lebanese capital and sought to go to Amman, but it was forced to land in Syria due to lack of fuel.
Air France stopped its flights to Damascus in March as fighting in the country escalated, and relations between France and Syria have collapsed since Paris demanded that President Bashar al-Assad step down.
"Because of the terrible relations between the two countries and the situation in Syria, the passengers were really worried about landing there," a friend of one of the passengers, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
On landing the local airport authorities said they could not accept a credit card payment and would only take cash, an Air France spokeswoman said.
"As a precaution and in anticipation, the crew asked how much money the passengers had in cash to pay to fill up with fuel," the airline spokeswoman said.
She said the airline was eventually able to pay the bill without taking money from passengers, but she declined to say how it had paid or how much the fuel stop cost.
The plane, which had departed from Paris, took off two hours after landing in Damascus for an overnight stop in Cyprus. It was now due to arrive in Beirut on Thursday evening.
The European Union has imposed a series on sanctions on Syria, including a ban on the Syrian national airline that will prevent the flag carrier landing at EU airports, although it will still be able to fly over EU countries and make emergency stops.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrived in Beirut on Thursday evening as part of a three-day trip to the region to garner support ahead of a ministerial meeting on Syria in August at the United Nations. France currently chairs the U.N. Security Council. (Reporting By John Irish and Cyril Altmeyer; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)
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