July 11, 2014 / 9:42 AM / 5 years ago

Gaza militant group warns airlines it will target Israel's main airport

GAZA (Reuters) - Islamist Hamas’s armed wing has warned airlines that it intends to target Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport with its rockets from Gaza and has told them not to fly there, a statement by the group said on Friday.

The airport, Israel’s main international aerial gateway, has been fully operational since Israel began an aerial offensive on Tuesday in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian militants intensified their cross-border rocket fire.

International airlines have continued to fly in, despite now-daily rocket salvoes at Tel Aviv that either have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system or hit areas where they caused no casualties.

“In the light of Israel’s ... attacks on the residents of Gaza Strip ... The armed wing of Hamas movement has decided to respond to the Israeli aggression and we warn you against carrying out flights to Ben Gurion airport, which will be one of our targets today because it also hosts a military air base,” the statement said.

The group claimed earlier that it had already fired at least one rocket towards the airport on Friday but no militant rockets are known to have landed in or around the airport, which is well protected by missile interceptor systems.

A spokesman for Israel’s airport authority said that a siren had sounded at Ben-Gurion and that all activity had stopped for about 10 minutes, but that the siren was part of a general alert in the Tel Aviv area and not a direct threat to the airport.

At least 99 Palestinians have died during Israel’s four day-old air-and-sea offensive on Gaza as it attempts to halt rocket fire by militants into Israel.

Militants have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel reaching deeper into the country than ever before.

The militant group said it had issued the warning to the airlines so that they could avoid injury to their passengers.

A British Airways (ICAG.L) spokeswoman says all flights to Tel Aviv were running as planned.

German airline Air Berlin AB1.DE, which offers daily flights to Tel Aviv from Berlin plus several times a week from Munich, said its “flights to and from Tel Aviv are currently being operated as planned.”

But passengers with flights booked for the period to July 18 could change their date of departure to a later date free of charge, a spokeswoman told Reuters in emailed comments, adding that the carrier was “closely monitoring the situation.”

A statement from Germany’s Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) said the airline “continues to serve Tel Aviv normally.”

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Sonya Hepinstall

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