Eilat Airport Closes Briefly on Israeli Army Orders

Closure likely to have come in light of security threat; eight flights expected to be rerouted from airport in southern Israel, situated near Egypt border.

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Eilat Airport briefly closed Thursday night under orders from the Israeli army, amid tensions in nearby Egypt.

At around 9 P.M., Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz instructed the airport to resume operations, some two hours after it had closed.

Upon the airport's closute, eight flights that were scheduled to land there were expected to be rerouted, and the nearby Ovda Airport in the Negev was opened.

Eilat, a popular tourist destination on the banks of the Red Sea, is packed at this time of year with tourists from Israel and abroad. There are direct flights from many European cities and hotels are currently reporting occupancy rates of 100 percent.

The Israel Defense Forces' instruction was likely to have been made in light of a security threat. The airport's closure came during turmoil in neighboring Egypt, particularly in the Sinai area, and the Israeli security establishment has expressed concern of late that, in light of this tumult, fire could be directed toward Israel, too.

Following the order, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that "civilian airports are managed in coordination with the Israel Air Force and Israel Airports Authority, in accordance with security assessments."

Egyptian security forces claimed Wednesday that it had killed 60 militants in the lawless Sinai Peninsula in the month since the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Citing widening "terrorist operations" in "recent times," the Egyptian army said it was conducting an intensified campaign in Sinai in coordination with the interior ministry to crack down on militants that "threaten Egyptian national security."

According the Egyptian military, the campaign resulted in the destruction of more than 100 tunnels used to smuggle goods across the Gaza-Egypt border and in the confiscation of dozens of vehicles and large quantities of fuel.

Militants based mainly in North Sinai near Israel's border have escalated attacks on security forces and other targets since July 3, when the army deposed Morsi and installed a new government.

In April, two rockets fired from the Sinai Peninsula hit Eilat, which lies on the border with Egypt and Jordan. Police said no casualties or damage were reported.

Police instructed residents to head to enter bomb shelters, and moments later residents reported hearing loud explosions. Immediately following the explosions, authorities closed off airspace over the city and rerouted a flight on its way there. Eilat Airport was reopened shortly thereafter.

The Salafist organization Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen in Sinai took responsibility for the strike.

A plane landing at Eilat Airport. Credit: Courtesy

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