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Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar personally confirmed Saturday night the completion over the weekend of maintenance work on the main landing strip of Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Haaretz has learned that the airport was closed to incoming and outgoing international air traffic from 6 P.M. Friday to 5 A.M. Saturday, to prevent demonstrations by ultra-Orthodox Jews against the violation of the Sabbath and the coalition crisis it could have prompted.

This was the first of what is to be eight Shabbats during which the airport will be completely closed to air traffic for set periods as part of wider renovations to the main landing strip that are scheduled for completion later this month.

The four-month project will continue for about a month after the reopening of the main landing strip, during which time the airport will be closed for short periods on Friday nights.

Airport director Zeev Sarig met twice with Chief Rabbi Amar before the shutdown to explain the importance of carrying out the work on the Sabbath. Amar issued a religious exemption for a small number of employees to carry out and oversee the work, following which Construction Minister Eli Yishai issued labor permits for the agreed-upon dates.

The Israel Aviation Authority informed foreign carriers about the expected Shabbat closure of the airport, prompting temporary adjustments to their flight schedules. Despite these precautions, a group of travelers was stuck in Tashkent over the weekend as a result of the closure.

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