Sources: Israel won't stop Qatari flights to Lebanon
Sources says Israel won't forcibly prevent flights, call plan 'attempt to return region to normal routine.'
Qatar Airways announced Sunday that it would resume flights to Beirut this week, disregarding Israel's seven-week-old air blockade of Lebanon.
The national carrier of Qatar said in a statement that it received approval from Lebanese authorities to operate daily flights from Doha to Beirut starting Monday.
"This development comes after a series of discussions the company had with Lebanese authorities to alleviate the suffering of travelers to and from Lebanon," the airline said.
Israel said it did not know of any official request from Qatar Airways, but the airline would be welcome to resume flights into Beirut as long as this was done in coordination with Israeli authorities.
Sources in Jerusalem said it would not try to prevent the flights using force, calling the Qatari plan "an attempt to return the region to normal routine."
Israel has refused to lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon, contending it needs to prevent Hezbollah guerrillas from rearming after the 34-day Israeli offensive that ended with an August 14 cease-fire.
Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, denied that Israel was enforcing a "blockade" of Lebanon, noting that airplanes and ships were entering and leaving Lebanon daily with Israeli permission.
Regev said Israel's coordination with Lebanon of air and sea traffic would remain a necessity until Lebanese army and UN peacekeeping forces were in full control of the country's borders.
"In the current situation, all traffic into and out of Lebanon must be coordinated," Regev said. "When people approach us, we almost automatically say yes." He added that he was "hopeful" Lebanese and international forces would be deployed soon and that all restrictions on traffic would be lifted.
The 34-day war between the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Israel destroyed large sections of Lebanon's infrastructure, but runways at Beirut's international airport have been repaired.
Lebanese legislators led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, on Saturday organized a sit-in in parliament aimed at lifting Israel's air and sea blockade of the country, calling on Arab countries to defy the blockade by sending boats to Lebanon without seeking authorization from Israel.
Since the war ended on August 14, only two airlines - Royal Jordanian Airlines and Middle East Airlines (a Lebanese carrier) - have been allowed by Israel to operate limited international flights to and from Beirut through Amman, the Jordanian capital.
Jordan Airlines is currently operating three daily flights to Beirut, whereas MEA is operating 80 flights a week, down from 130 flights before the war, all which include stopovers in Amman.