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Monday, July 30, 2007

Israel on alert as arriving flights temporarily landing from East, over West Bank

TEL AVIV Israel is intensifying the search for surface-to-air missiles in Palestinian strongholds due the rerouting of air traffic into the Ben-Gurion airport.

Officials said Israeli authorities are concerned that Palestinian insurgents, have or would soon receive anti-aircraft assets in the West Bank. They said the surface-to-air missiles were being smuggled from either the Gaza Strip or neighboring Jordan, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The goal of the terrorists is to destroy an Israeli airliner at Ben-Gurion Airport," an official said. "It's a mission that is being supported by Iran and Syria."

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The Palestinian anti-aircraft threat has been heightened by an Israeli policy that will require aircraft to temporarily land in Ben-Gurion Airport from the east, or the West Bank. Over the next six weeks, the Israel Airport Authority has decided to use a runway that requires an eastern approach amid renovations to other facilities.

"It's a risk," the official said. "It means flying low over hostile Arab villages that might have SAMs [surface-to-air missiles]."

At this point, officials said, the Israeli military has been searching for surface-to-air weapons in suspected strongholds of Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They said the most likely locations where the missiles were stored or produced was the West Bank cities of Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarm.

The Israeli military has warned against using the runway, termed 26/08. But officials said the Transportation Ministry informed the military and Israel Security Agency of the new policy, which was accompanied by additional unidentified security measures.

"Previously, airplanes did not fly over the area of Judea and Samaria [West Bank]," Transportation Ministry spokesman Avner Ovadiah said. "Recently the flights were approved in light of the staff work conducted by the security system in the Security Department and the Transportation Ministry, and after all the necessary security measures were taken."

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