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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Israel routes civilian flights away from Gaza due to concerns about SAMs

TEL AVIV — Israel has revised the flight paths of civilian aircraft to avoid missile strikes from the Gaza Strip.

Officials said the Israel Air Force has ordered the distancing, having determined that the Hamas regime has acquired anti-aircraft missiles that could knock out low-flying passenger and other aircraft.

Officials said the air force has determined that Hamas has acquired up to 150 SA-7 and other surface-to-air missiles. They said the SA-7s would not endanger fixed-wing aircraft deployed by the air force.

The air force has already revised combat helicopter missions over the Gaza Strip to prevent SA-7 strikes. Officials said such U.S.-origin helicopters as the Apache and Cobra attack helicopters have been ordered to fly higher to avoid being struck by SAMs.

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"The new rules will affect mostly aircraft that spray insecticides on crops," an official said. "They fly low and could be a target of Hamas SAMs [surface-to-air missiles]."

So far, Hamas or its Palestinian militia allies have not been reported to have fired SA-7s or other air defense missiles. But officials said the air force has detected Hamas SA-7 squads around Gaza City that were waiting to attack low-flying Israeli aircraft.

On Dec. 31, the Israeli government approved a plan to equip passenger jets that could protect against shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. A Cabinet committee said the Israeli-origin systems, developed by such companies as Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems, would be installed on all Israeli passenger jets.

[On Jan. 13, Israeli troops moved into the Gaza City suburb of Tel Hawa. Witnesses said Israeli armored and infantry units were maneuvering in the neighborhood of high-rise buildings that included the homes of Hamas leaders.]

"The decision is part of the continuing effort to provide a response to existing terrorist threats against the state of Israel around the world," a Cabinet statement said. "The Transportation Ministry will be responsible for the project, in cooperation with the security establishment and the security industries."

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