The Transportation Ministry said yesterday it would install temporary X-ray scanning machines in the Kiryat Shmona airport, in an effort to calm public protests over its policy of barring Arabs from traveling on flights from the north to Tel Aviv.

The Transportation Ministry, acting on instruction from the Shin Bet security service, had decided that Arabs would not be allowed on the flights following a financial dispute that prevented the use of luggage scanning machines in airports in the north. An investigation by Haaretz revealed that there was a policy of allowing Jewish passengers only onto these flights.

"The Transportation Ministry director general was surprised to hear that because the facilities in the new terminal at Kiryat Shmona had not been completed in time, an X-ray machine was not in operation and thus non-Jewish passengers could not fly from Kiryat Shmona to the center of the country," said Avner Ovadia, Transportation Ministry director of international relations and public relations.

Ovadia said Transportation Ministry director general Gideon Siterman had asked security officials in charge at the airport to find a solution that would enable all passengers to fly out of Kiryat Shmona.

Siterman has called a meeting next week with Kiryat Shmona mayor Haim Barbivai, Udi Tamir - director general of Tamir, the airline recently awarded the tender to operate regular flights between Rosh Pina and Kiryat Shmona - and other officials, with the goal of having an X-ray machine installed at the new airport within two months.

'Jewish, Arab or foreign'

A source in the Shin Bet security services told Haaretz that "security regulations require examination of luggage by X-ray in keeping with the security classification of each passenger and regardless of whether they are Jewish, Arab or foreign."

Siterman said temporary luggage scanning machines would be set up at the old terminal of the Kiryat Shmona airport until the airport could be fully equipped for proper security checks.

In a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, attorney Abir Bakhar of the Adaleh legal aid center called the directive "racist, arbitrary, discriminatory and patently illegal."

Deputy speaker of the Knesset MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) submitted a question from the floor to Olmert as to whether the security services had instructed that Arab passengers be prohibited from boarding the flights from the north because there was no X-ray machine due to budgetary problems.