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Ticket-pricing Row Puts Falashmura Airlift on Hold

Operation canceled after Ethiopian aviation authority did not allow chartered Turkish planes to land.

The operation bringing the Falashmura waiting in the Gondar transit camp to Israel has been canceled at the last minute, Haaretz has learned. The first two flights - one of which was meant to leave yesterday and the other today - will not be take place, after the Ethiopian aviation authority did not allow the chartered Turkish planes to land. A total of 170 immigrants were due to arrive on the planes.

Two months ago, the government decided to allow 8,000 members of the Falashmura community to immigrate.

The move appears to be intended to protect the business of Ethiopian Airlines, whose services the Jewish Agency chose not to hire for the operation, because of the company's high prices. The agency hired Turkish Airlines for the operation, after Ethiopian Airlines upped its flight prices following an aviation dispute with Israel.

The company has sought to increase the number of flights to Israel to five a week, while Israel wanted to implement the flight agreement between the two countries and allow an Israeli airline to offer flights to Addis Ababa as well. This, however, did not happen because of disagreements over security, and the Israeli Civil Aviation Authority did not allow the Ethiopian company to increase the number of flights to Tel Aviv.

Ethiopian Airlines responded by raising its ticket prices, which immediately limited the number of places that could be purchased for the Falashmura immigrants. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, in 2010 Ethiopian Airlines flew 60,000 passengers to and from Israel - an 18 percent rise compared to 2009. In the same year, Turkish Airlines carried 330,000 passengers to and from Israel - a one percent drop compared to the previous year.