JERUSALEM: US airlines lifted a flight ban to Israel on Thursday as Washington’s top diplomat cited progress in ending 17 days of bloodshed in Gaza which has killed 718 Palestinians.
The ban was lifted just hours after US Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah and returned to Cairo to continue pushing regional efforts to ink a ceasefire.
Hamas had hailed the suspension of Tel Aviv flights by US and European airlines as a “great victory for the resistance.”
“The FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] has lifted its restrictions on US airline flights into and out of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport,” the US national aviation agency said early on Thursday, two days after imposing a ban on commercial flights when a rocket hit a house very close to the runways.
But it warned the situation was still “very fluid” as the fighting raged on in Gaza. There was no immediate word on whether European airlines would follow suit.
As truce efforts mounted, Hamas’s exiled leader Khaled Meshaal vowed there would be no end to the fighting without the lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade on Gaza.
“We will not accept any initiative that does not lift the blockade on our people and that does not respect their sacrifices,” he said.
Meanwhile on the ground, 21 people were killed as Israel continued to strike Gaza, among them a family of six, including a five-year-old girl and boy of three.
And the Red Cross said it had negotiated agreement with the two sides to take a convoy of 10 ambulances into the battered Khuzaa district, which lies on the Israeli border, close to the southern city of Khan Yunis, which has seen intensive fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants over the past 24 hours.
A similar rescue mission on Wednesday enabled medics to evacuate 150 people from Khuzaa, among them many women and children, 70 from the northern town of Beit Hanun and another group of people from Shejaiya near Gaza City, including an entire family of 11, International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Cecilia Goin told Agence France-Presse.
US, UN pool efforts
As US Secretary of State John Kerry and United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon held talks in Jerusalem, they said they had pooled their efforts in the hope of boosting the quest for a truce.
“We are now joining our forces in strength to make a ceasefire as soon as possible,” Ban said as he met Kerry for the second time this week, following initial talks in Cairo on Monday.
“We have in the last 24 hours made some progress in moving toward that goal,” Kerry said as he met president Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, before heading to Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The men met for about two hours but made no statements after their talks. Kerry then left for Cairo and Netanyahu opened a meeting of his security cabinet.