Middle East

Israel airlines strike over 'open-skies' plan

Hundreds of workers burn tyres outside PM's office in protest against approval of reform to liberalise air travel.

Last Modified: 21 Apr 2013 12:57
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Hundreds of demonstrators burned tyres outside the Israeli prime minister's office in protest against the plan [AFP]

The Israeli government has approved an Open Skies deal with European carriers, as local airline workers went on strike with hundreds burning tyres outside the prime minister's office in protest against the plan.

Israel's three airlines - El Al, Arkia and Israir - are opposed to the deal, saying it would result in widespread layoffs.

"The goal of the reform we approved today is to reduce the costs of flights to and from Israel and to increase incoming tourism," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday, saying the deal had been in the works for "many years".

"We will continue to advance reforms to reduce the cost of living and increase the efficiency of services to Israelis," he said.

Netanyahu said the finance and tourism ministers would have 45 days to address questions raised during the discussion which took place before the deal was approved by the cabinet.
'Severe ramifications'

Staff of El Al and charter firms Arkia and Israir stopped work at 5:00am local time (02:00 GMT) on Sunday but did not say how long the stoppage would last.

Implementing the Open Skies agreement in its current format will have severe ramifications which would fatally and irreversibly harm civilian aviation in Israel

Ofer Eini,
Histadrut trade union chairman

"Implementing the Open Skies agreement in its current format will have severe ramifications which would fatally and irreversibly harm civilian aviation in Israel," Histadrut trade union chairman Ofer Eini said in a letter to Netanyahu.

As ministers arrived for the weekly cabinet meeting, more than 500 demonstrators burst through the security barriers and tried to block their way into Netanyahu's office, police and a correspondent for the AFP news agency said.

"Demonstrators broke down barriers and headed to a closed area near the prime minister's office," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, saying eight people had been arrested.

Several tyres were set alight, sparking heated scuffles with the police and riot police who were called to the scene, the correspondent said.

Waving Israeli flags and banners demanding "Aerial justice," they handed out flyers saying: "Israel's skies are shutting out Israeli airlines."

"International airlines that don't add Israel to their [airline] alliances because of the Arab boycott are about to take over Israeli skies," it said, warning the deal "does not allow Israeli airlines to compete equally with European airlines".

El Al, Israel's national carrier, has been under private ownership since 2005.

In March 2012, Israel and the EU signed an Open Skies aviation agreement aimed at opening up and integrating their markets.

In line with the deal, EU airlines will be able to operate direct flights to Israel without current limitations, and Israeli carriers will also have more freedom to fly to airports across the EU, in a move aimed at reducing costs for travellers.


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