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Thursday, December 21, 2006

The first direct flight from Tel Aviv to Beirut

It was announced today that the first direct flight from Tel Aviv to Beirut took place. The announcement was greeted with wild cheers and marching bands at Beirut International Airport, as Lebanese President Fouad Siniora praised a 'new era of peace' between his country and Israel, and Hezbullah chieftain Hassan Nasrallah announced that if Lebanon can make peace with Israel, he can make peace with Siniora.

Alas, only part of that story is true. There was a direct flight from Tel Aviv to Beirut - at least according to Hezbullah's al-Manar television station. It took place on November 21, the day that Pierre Gemayel was assassinated. And it was apparently on the ground during the assassination, which took place around 4:00 PM. Just wait - Hezbullah will blame Israel for the assassination soon. And oh yes, Hezbullah has condemned it as a violation of Lebanese law. Here are some more details:
Hizbullah television station Al-Manar claimed Wednesday that the organization is in possession of documents proving that a Portuguese military plane carrying 11 unidentified passengers flew directly from Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport to Beirut.

Hizbullah said the flight was the first of its kind in Lebanon’s history and was in violation of Lebanese law.

According to the report, the plane landed in Beirut on November 21, the same day Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was assassinated. As expected, Hizbullah used the report to indirectly criticize Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and other top Lebanese government officials.

The report said the plane remained grounded at the Beirut airport for seven hours after landing at 11:31 a.m. The mid-sized Falcon warplane reportedly left Lisbon for Tel Aviv and from there flew directly to Beirut. It eventually took off from Beirut at around 7 p.m. to an unknown destination.

The report said 10 passengers got off the plane in Beirut and eight others replaced them.

Hizbullah added that the plane did not pay the usual airport tax, as the passengers said they were on official business. Hizbullah officials are now wondering who was responsible for authorizing the landing and are looking into the passengers’ identities and the purpose of their visit.

A number of legal experts told Al-Manar that direct flights from Tel Aviv to Beirut are illegal according to Lebanese law, adding that all planes embarking from Israel to Lebanon must fly through a third destination; the airport in Larnaka, Cyprus is one destination that is frequently used in such cases.

Informed sources have noted that the bodies which usually authorize landings are the airport's general administration or general civilian aviation administration in Lebanon or the aviation monitoring administration.

The same sources also said that one of the administrations employs the services of four American experts who work in shifts on the second floor of the airport and earn USD 120,000 a month on a project "whose details are unknown", Hizbullah are using this as another means to vilify those responsible for the incident.
$120,000 a month? That's incredible combat pay....


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