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Gaza rocket halts Israel flights as foes resist truce efforts

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The European Aviation Safety Agency advised all carriers to avoid Tel Aviv "until further notice"/FILE

The European Aviation Safety Agency advised all carriers to avoid Tel Aviv “until further notice”/FILE

GAZA CITY, July 23 – Airlines blocked flights to Israel Wednesday after a Gaza rocket struck near airport runways, as the UN chief urged an end to a conflict that has killed 639 Palestinians and 31 Israelis.

As the violence entered its 16th day, neither Israel nor Islamist movement Hamas appeared willing to end hostilities, despite days of diplomatic efforts to coax them into a truce.

Palestinian emergency services said that at least six people were killed early Wednesday during prolonged shelling of the southern town of Khan Yunis and 20 more were wounded, most of them seriously.

Two more were killed by Israeli fire in the north of the Strip they said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on a visit to Tel Aviv, appealed on Tuesday for the bitter rivals to “stop fighting” and “start talking.”.

However Israel insisted it would keep up its aerial and ground assault until it smashes cross-border tunnels used by Gaza militants to attack the Jewish state.

A rocket crashed close to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion international airport prompting the US Federal Aviation Authority to ban flights to and from Israel for at least 24 hours.

And the European Aviation Safety Agency advised all carriers to avoid Tel Aviv “until further notice”. READ: UN calls for immediate truce as Gaza toll tops 500.

The bans come after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was allegedly shot down by a missile over strife-torn eastern Ukraine, heightening sensitivity over aviation safety above warzones.

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It was the first time such measures had been taken since the 1990-1991 Gulf war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to US Secretary of State John Kerry to lift the ban.

“Netanyahu spoke this evening with … Kerry and asked him to act to restore flights by American airline companies to Israel,” sources in Netanyahu’s office told AFP.

Kerry said the order would be reviewed within in a day and told Netanyahu the ban was solely due to safety concerns, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

But US billionaire Michael Bloomberg said that he was flying to Tel Aviv by Israeli carrier El Al to show solidarity.

“The flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately,” the former New York mayor wrote on his official Twitter account.

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