Europe denies barring El Al landings

Sunday letter to PM said flights carrying arms to IDF banned from refueling.

el al plane 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
el al plane 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Three European countries said Tuesday that they had no rules in place barring El Al cargo flights carrying military equipment from landing inside their borders.
  • El Al planes can't refuel in Europe The disclosure came after the head of El Al's pilots' union revealed that some cargo flights had been denied permission to land because they were carrying military equipment for use by the IDF. In the letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert obtained by The Associated Press, Itai Regev wrote on Sunday that Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal would not let El Al planes on "special cargo flights" stop over at airports to refuel before making their way to Tel Aviv during the month-long fighting with Hizbullah in Lebanon. As a result, "much fewer arms than needed reach Israel" because the planes, which depart from US bases, have to fly with "much lighter cargoes" to conserve fuel, Regev wrote. El Al refused to comment on the letter. Spain's government said it was not aware of such rules, nor was the AENA, the government agency that oversees the country's airports. In Berlin, a spokeswoman for the Transport Ministry said there were no restrictions on El Al's landing rights in Germany. It was not immediately clear if El Al is obliged to inform German authorities of any arms on board its planes. Italy's civil aviation authority, ENAC, said it had not received orders to put restrictions on El Al flights. ENAC added, however, that in any case, as a civil authority, it wouldn't be authorized to clear the airline to fly arms shipments. Portuguese officials did not return calls seeking comment, but last month its government gave an IDF cargo plane permission to make a refueling stop in the mid-Atlantic Azores Islands because it was not carrying weapons or ammunition. Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Manuel Lobo Antunes said it was an exception to the rule. "We regarded the request as exceptional and informed Israel that we would not grant further requests - for example, for controversial cargo," Lobo Antunes told the daily Diario de Noticias newspaper. In London, David Stewart, a spokesman for Britain's Transport Department, said that some Israeli flights had been permitted to refuel but that was under specific guidelines. "We have procedures in place for flights carrying arms," he said without elaborating. "It is important that they are followed." During the fighting between Israel and Hizbullah, Britain was criticized by anti-war advocates for letting US flights carrying arms bound for Israel stop at Prestwick to refuel. The flights did not declare what their cargo was.