Israeli flights to Cyprus resume following dispute over security

JERUSALEM/NICOSIA (Combined reports) – A dispute over security that threatened air links between Israel and Cyprus was resolved yesterday, Israel’s Transport Ministry said. Israel had announced the suspension of flights to Cyprus by Israeli airlines, charging that Cyprus had imposed limits on Israeli security at Larnaca Airport there. A few hours later, Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority reversed the decision after officials from both sides decided current security arrangements would remain in place for about two weeks while negotiators resolved the dispute, said ministry spokesman Avner Ovadia. «Israeli civil aviation authorities have notified our offices in Tel Aviv that the previous notice (ban) has been withdrawn and flights are back on track,» Cyprus Airways Chairman Haris Loizides told Agence France-Presse. «It’s been agreed that the security measures which existed will be reinstated for two weeks» at Larnaca Airport, «during which time a delegation will come from Israel to Cyprus and discuss arrangements here,» he said. The disagreement followed the firing of two missiles at an Israeli Arkia Airlines plane carrying 281 people soon after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya on Nov. 28. Neither of the missiles hit the airplane, but the incident refocused attention on security at world airports. As a result of the dispute, Israel’s three airlines, El Al, Arkia and Isra-Air, were forbidden from flying to Cyprus as of Sunday due to the «severe security restrictions» imposed by Cypriot authorities on Wednesday, an initial ministry statement said, without elaborating. In addition, Cyprus Airways flights would not have been permitted to land in Israel, according to the statement. Israel Radio said the dispute was over restrictions Cypriot authorities wanted to impose on Israeli security guards at the airport. The presence of armed Israeli guards at the airport has been a sore point with Cypriot authorities for some time. Cyprus’s decision is «grave and unacceptable in light of the warnings and threats on Israeli points around the world,» Ovadia said, before the decision was overturned. Ethiopian Airways suspended flights to Israel earlier this week after Israel diverted a plane of the company traveling from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv over concerns that security in Ethiopia was insufficient. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that he had instructed the security establishment to find a way to protect Israeli civilian airplanes. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has recommended that $8.5 million be allocated to fit 30 passenger planes with «electronic protection suits» against shoulder-launched missiles, the Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported yesterday. The Defense Ministry recommended fitting Israeli airplanes with a device developed by the government-owned Rafael research company, which sends out a hot beam of light to distract the heat-seeking missile, the paper said. Officials from Rafael said this week that they had begun emergency production of the anti-missile systems in light of the Mombasa attack. (AP, AFP)

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