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The High Court of Justice yesterday rejected a petition by the Arkia and Israir airlines requesting that El Al be ordered to cancel its plans to begin domestic flights to Eilat, ruling that the petition had been submitted prematurely.

However, the court said, Arkia and Israir could resubmit it after Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz issues his decision on the matter.

That means that El Al will have to wait for at least 30 days after Katz issues his decision to allow the two complainants to refile their petition.

In its ruling, the court criticized the Transportation Ministry's handling of the issue but said it did not have the authority to usurp the minister's authority to decide.

Arkia and Israir see El Al's move as a threat. It follows their attempts to enter the international market, which is dominated by El Al.

The Eilat flights are considered Arkia and Israir's most profitable route. According to figures published by the Israel Airports Authority, local travel to and from Eilat increased by 5% in November compared with the same period last year. A total of 94,200 passengers passed through Eilat's tiny airport that month. Of these, Arkia carried 62,000 passengers and Israir 32,000.