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An El Al sales campaign has raised a storm of protest among foreign airlines operating in Israel.

The national airline is secretly offering deeply discounted tickets to travel agents, which are to be offered only to passengers who present written evidence that they have canceled reservations with a competing foreign airline. The directors of foreign airlines in Israel accuse El Al of "unfair competition, unethical behavior and contemptible theft."

The airline tickets in question are for flights to New York, one of the most popular destinations during the summer travel season. The tickets, a series of departure dates between July 1 and 23 which at the peak of the season go for $1,219 (including taxes and supplements), are being offered at a discount of about $500.

"How low can the purported 'national' airline stoop?" a foreign airline manager asked Wednesday. "This is improper and unfair competition. The low cost tickets are not even being offered to the general public of Israeli passengers - only to those who have reserved tickets with foreign airlines. Now travel agents have to entice them into canceling reservations to allow them to benefit from El Al's discounted rate. It's unethical behavior, and a disgraceful theft of passengers," he added.

El Al's Vice President of Commercial and Aviation Ties Rami Levy dismissed the accusations.

"El Al operates in a competitive market, and does its utmost to maximize its sales in accordance with the regulations and laws prevailing in the market," Levy said Wednesday. "The campaign is a limited one, and targeting the ultra-Orthodox market segment."