Gantz gives order to reopen Eilat Airport after closure for security reasons

Airport closes for some 2 hours following security assessment; IDF sources say closure not due to any ongoing security incident.

By REUTERS
August 8, 2013 21:13
Eilat hotels

Eilat hotels 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz gave the Israel Airports Authority permission to reopen Eilat Airport on Thursday night after it had been closed for more than two hours due to unspecified security reasons.

The decision to reopen the airport came following a security evaluation called by Gantz. The IDF said it would continue to monitor events, but military sources noted that the closure in the early evening was not due to any ongoing security incident.

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The airport was closed to incoming and outgoing flights at approximately 7 p.m. on Thursday evening following a security assessment, and reopened just after 9 p.m.

In the interim, travelers with tickets on canceled outgoing flights were transferred by bus to nearby Uvda Airport, which was opened to accommodate them following the decision to close the Eilat Airport.

The IDF order to close Eilat Airport came after Egypt’s army announced on Wednesday that it had killed 60 terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula in the month since the military overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. Citing widening “terrorist operations” in “recent times,” the Egyptian military said it was conducting an intensified campaign in Sinai in coordination with the country’s Interior Ministry to crack down on terrorists who “threaten Egyptian national security.”

Terrorists based mainly in north Sinai near Israel’s border have escalated attacks on security forces and other targets since July 3, when the Egyptian army deposed Morsi and installed a new government.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said last month that Egypt has inserted additional military forces – including assault helicopters – into Sinai after receiving permission from Israel, in line with the peace treaty between the two countries.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yisrael Ziv a former head of IDF Operations, said on Thursday night that he “couldn’t rule out the possibility” that there was a connection between the closure of the Eilat Airport and the US decision this week to shut a number of embassies in the region due to al-Qaida terrorist threats.

He suggested that a terrorist plot might have originated on the Egyptian side of the border, in the lawless Sinai Peninsula.

“It appears that we received information in recent hours that something is happening in Sinai,” Ziv told Channel 1 Television.

“Sinai has become a serious problem from a security point of view. Like Afghanistan, it has become an unmanageable territory.”

In Cairo, on Id al-Fitr, the festival ending Ramadan, Islamist supporters of Morsi held a rally to demand his restoration after the military-led authorities that removed him held off from a threat to break up protest sit-ins.

Morsi’s rarely seen wife, Naglaa Mahmoud, made a surprise appearance on stage at the main demonstration in the Egyptian capital to appeal for her husband’s return, as the crowds roared “Returning! Returning!” Interim President Adly Mansour said on Wednesday that international diplomatic efforts had failed to resolve the political crisis and the government warned activists to leave the protest camps, saying the decision to remove them was final.

US and European Union envoys left Cairo after the breakdown of their attempts to broker a solution, which had involved Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

However, a person involved in the mediation effort said the authorities and Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood might yet step back from confrontation and implement mutual confidence-building steps that could lead to a negotiated settlement.

“It’s not over yet,” the diplomat said. “It could work, but we don’t have any guarantees. Everything is very fragile.”

Government and military sources said the talks were not terminated, but had been frozen to assuage public anger over perceived foreign interference in Egypt’s affairs and, among some, at the authorities’ willingness to negotiate with the Brotherhood after months of demonizing them.

A military source said the authorities were holding back from using force to clear the protest camps partly due to fear that liberal Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei would resign, removing a source of political legitimacy for army rule.

State-owned newspapers splashed giant red headlines such as “The last warning,” “Government to Brotherhood: Diplomacy is finished,” and “Egypt rejects sermons from the American Satan,” a sign of the contempt with which the public holds the United States, which provides Egypt with $1.5 billion in annual aid.

Morsi has been jailed at a secret location since the military removed him from power on July 3, and other senior Brotherhood figures have been rounded up.

Thousands of Morsi followers have maintained vigils at two Cairo locations for five weeks, despite government orders to disband and two mass shootings when security forces killed scores of them with live fire.

Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi visited the Central Security Forces with the Interior Minister in an apparent effort to calm hard-liners impatient for tougher action.

“He assured them that the government places security at the top of its priorities and that there is no stable society without security that is founded on the law and that protects the sovereignty of the state and the lives of its citizens and their possessions,” a statement from Beblawi’s office said.

Thousands of demonstrators converged on the Brotherhood protest camp in northeastern Cairo in a festive atmosphere to attend prayers and a rally on the first day of the Id al-Fitr holiday.

The public appearance of Morsi’s wife after five weeks out of the limelight since her husband’s detention caused wild excitement outside the Rabaa al- Adawiya mosque. She waved her hands above her head, flanked by senior Brotherhood leader Mohamed el-Beltagi.

“Of course it’s very difficult for me to speak. God willing, he is returning; God willing, God willing,” she said in a strong voice, dressed in a cream-colored waist-length veil over a long burgundy dress.

“Praise God, the Egyptian people proved that they are Islamist... God willing, Islamist,” she said.

Secular and leftist groups have called for mass demonstrations and public prayers across Egypt to support what they see as a popular revolution that led to the overthrow of Morsi by the military after just a year in office.

In one apparent conciliatory gesture, prosecutors dropped the main charge against the head of the Brotherhood’s political wing, Saad el-Katatni, in a possible prelude to releasing him.

The Brotherhood allowed a human rights organization and a European Parliament delegation to visit the Rabaa al- Adawiya sit-in, where anti-Morsi media have alleged that weapons had been stockpiled – a charge denied by the Islamists.

The person involved in the mediation effort said a sequence of statements and confidence-building measures aimed at reducing tensions and reassuring public opinion might yet lead to direct or indirect negotiations between the two sides.

So far, the Brotherhood has refused to accept what it calls the illegal coup and has publicly demanded the return of the elected president. The new authorities have accused Islamist leaders of inciting violence, frozen the Brotherhood’s assets and vowed to put them on trial.

“The train of the future has departed, and everyone must realize the moment and catch up with it, and whoever fails to realize this moment must take responsibility for their decision,” Mansour said in an Id al-Fitr broadcast.

Diplomats have said any settlement would have to involve a dignified exit for Morsi, Brotherhood acceptance of the new disposition, the release of political prisoners arrested since the takeover and a future political role for the Brotherhood.

The United States and the EU said on Wednesday they were very concerned that the Egyptian parties had not found a way to break what they called a dangerous stalemate.

“This remains a very fragile situation, which holds not only the risk of more bloodshed and polarization in Egypt but also impedes the economic recovery, which is so essential for Egypt’s successful transition,” US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, visiting Cairo when the talks collapsed, said the country’s new rulers appeared to see no merit in talking to the Brotherhood now, but they would have to do so eventually and the sooner the better.

While violence has subsided in Cairo since a July 27 incident in which security forces shot dead at least 80 Islamist protesters, daily clashes continue between Islamist terrorists and the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula adjoining Israel. Medical officials have said the terrorists have killed about 40 people, mostly members of the security forces.

The Brotherhood says it has no links to the Sinai terrorists.


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