Crisis between Israel, Russia averted

Arkia jet barred from flying to Israel over visa misunderstanding.

May 11, 2010 10:08
1 minute read.
THE IAF Gulfstream jets over Hungary were on a dip

plane illustrative 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

There was a small-scale, short-lived diplomatic tiff between Israel and Russia overnight Monday, as authorities in St. Petersburg barred an Arkia plane from flying out of the city.

The minor crisis began to unfold on Monday night, as 260 passengers waited at the Moscow airport for their flight to Ben Gurion International Airport, originally scheduled for 7 p.m. Many of them were pensioners who had just completed a tour of Russia, unaware that the plane which was to take them back to Israel was stuck at the airport of a different Russian city.

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The cause for the delay was apparently a demand by Russian authorities to see the passengers’ tourist visas.

Attempts by the pilots and crew to explain that Israel and Russia signed an agreement to cancel tourist visa requirements in 2008 proved to be futile as authorities adamantly refused to allow the plane to take off from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and from there to Ben Gurion.

Russian and Israeli diplomats tried to intervene despite the late hour. However, it was a last-ditch effort by the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) that saved the day and averted a full-blown crisis, as a Russian Transaero Airlines plane with passengers on board was prevented from flying out of Ben Gurion Airport.

The Arkia plane was subsequently permitted to leave Russia, and made its way to Israel on Tuesday morning.

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