First flights arrive at Beirut airport

Flights coordinated with IDF; Israel maintaining air blockade of Lebanon.

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August 17, 2006 17:49
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Two passenger planes flew into Beirut from Jordan on Thursday, marking the first commercial flights to land at the country's only airport since it was attacked and forced shut by Israel last month. The IDF said it had coordinated the aircrafts' arrival, but warned their landing did not constitute an end to the air blockade. Israel said the permission to land had been granted for the two flights on Thursday only, but no explanation was given and no other details were immediately available. A Middle East Airlines passenger jet landed at Beirut airport first and was followed by a Royal Jordanian airliner. MEA Chairman Mohammed Hout said the siege was partially lifted against Beirut airport, allowing flights to and from Amman only for now. Transportation Minister Mohammed Safadi also confirmed the partial lifting of the siege followed contacts by Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. Neither official gave a reason why traffic was allowed only through Amman. However, Jordan, along with Egypt, are the only two Arab countries which signed peace treaties with Israel and have full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. The MEA flight was the first commercial aircraft to fly to Rafik Hariri International Airport since July 13, when IAF warplanes and gunboats punched holes in the three runways of the country's only international air facility. The government has made no formal announcement that the airport is officially open. Airport officials said full commercial flights could resume next week. Hout said in a statement the national carrier will give a free ride to passengers who show up for the flight from Amman, and the return from Beirut. The flight was expected to arrive at the airport at 6 p.m. EDT. Israel imposed an air, naval and land blockade on Lebanon when the conflict began July 12 with Hizbullah's capture of two Israeli soldiers and killing of eight others in a cross-border raid on Israel's North. Israel said the aim was to prevent Hizbullah from rearming. Since a UN-imposed cease-fire took hold on Monday, Israel said the blockade will continue to prevent Hizbullah from rearming. France's foreign minister, who visited Beirut on Wednesday, called for an end to the Israeli blockade. Lebanese officials have said they are implementing security arrangements, particularly to search cargo.


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