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U.S. Extends Flight Ban to Israel, Rebuffing Netanyahu’s Request to Resume Service

U.S. Extends Flight Ban to Israel, Rebuffing Netanyahu’s Request to Resume Service

This story has been updated. 

U.S. flights to Israel are grounded for another day, despite protests from Israeli officials who insist it’s safe to land there and are asking their U.S. counterparts to pressure the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to lift the ban.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Secretary of State John Kerry to help remove the restrictions, which began Tuesday after a rocket fired by militants in the Gaza Strip struck a mile from the airport. A State Department spokeswoman said the FAA considers only safety and security in making decisions. Though it only applies to U.S. airlines, other international airlines like Air France and Lufthansa have followed suit.

The FAA ban on flying into Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv now extends until midday Thursday. Israeli officials argue that the country’s Iron Dome defense system protects the airport. Israeli Transport Minister Israel Katz said Tuesday that halting flights would "give a prize to terror."

"Any incoming rocket that would hit the airport … would immediately be taken out by our system," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said on CNN Wednesday.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said the FAA’s decision was "overly harsh and excessive" and sent the "entirely wrong message."

"We are concerned the ban could have the effect of isolating Israel at a time when we should be demonstrating our strong solidarity," AIPAC said in a statement Wednesday.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) went further, saying in a statement that the ban was an "economic boycott … to force our ally to comply with [Obama’s] foreign-policy demands."

That suggestion was roundly dismissed by the State Department and other Israel supporters on the Hill.

"To insinuate or suggest that there was another factor besides the safety of the airline passengers that went into the FAA’s decision is simply going off the deep end," said one Democratic congressional aide.

The ban deals a blow to the country’s tourism industry at the height of the busy summer season. The industry relies on visitors from Europe and the United States, who accounted for more than 75 percent of tourists in 2012, according to government statistics.

Shalom Stark, who runs Shalom Israel Tours in Caesarea, Israel, said 90 percent of his customers are from the United States and Canada, some of whom have canceled tours that were set to start this weekend.

The Israel Hotel Association said earlier this week that the Gaza ground war could cost the hotel industry $100 million and the broader tourism industry $500 million in lost revenue.

Though it will likely dent trade and tourism in Israel, it hasn’t kept all Americans grounded. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday that he would fly to Tel Aviv to demonstrate that the restriction is a mistake. He said the FAA should permit U.S. airlines to fly into Ben Gurion because it’s the "best protected airport in the world."

"I flew here to show solidarity with the Israeli people, who have come under attack from Hamas, and to show that it’s safe to fly in and out of Israel," Bloomberg said in a statement when he arrived.

He flew on Israel’s El Al Airlines, which is still flying back and forth between Israel and U.S. cities.

International traffic to the airport was last suspended in 1991, during the first Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein targeted Israel with Scud missiles.

John Hudson contributed to this article.