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Published: Saturday July 26, 2014 MYT 10:35:59 PM
Updated: Saturday July 26, 2014 MYT 10:36:54 PM

German pilots' union raps Lufthansa move to resume Israel route

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany's pilots' union criticised a decision by Air Berlin and Lufthansa [LUFT.UL] to resume flights to Israel, ending a ban imposed in response to fears that rockets fired from the Gaza Strip may hit aircraft.

Lufthansa and Air Berlin said they will resume flights to Israel's Ben Gurion Airport on Saturday, the same day a 12-hour humanitarian truce agreed by Israel and Hamas began.

The truce comes after nearly 3 weeks of conflict in which 940 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have been killed, along with 37 Israeli soldiers and 3 civilians.

Joerg Handwerg, a board member at German pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit said the decision seemed driven by political and economic factors rather than by security reasons.

"We should not be flying to locations where shots are being fired," Handwerg said. The truce was only temporary and Israel's rocket defence system appeared unable to hold up all rockets, he said.

Handwerg said he had demanded that airlines ensure that staff only agree to go on flights on a voluntary basis.

A spokesman for Lufthansa said the airline was constantly monitoring the security situation at Tel Aviv airport, using all available security information.

"A decision on whether or not to fly is made purely on the basis of security considerations," Lufthansa said.

Lufthansa Group also operates the airlines Germanwings, Austrian Airlines and Swiss.

The European Cockpit Association, (ECA) which represents 38,000 European pilots from 37 European states, declined to comment on the lifting of the flight ban, but said they were concerned about a lack of transparency.

"The main issue is that there is no common understanding of the risk assessment process being used or assurance that the assessment for all airline operators is being fed by the best available intelligence," ECA said in an e-mailed statement.

"This makes it difficult to judge if the security situation has indeed changed or not, and whether the resulting action taken is appropriate."

On July 22, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposed a ban on flights by U.S. airlines to Ben Gurion, Israel's main hub, in response to a Palestinian rocket that struck a building 2 kilometres away from the airport.

The FAA has since lifted the ban.

Israel said the damage was debris from a mid-air rocket interception by its Iron Dome missile defence system, which it says has been successful in protecting Ben Gurion Airport, along with a precautionary measure of narrowing of air corridors.

(Reporting by Edward Taylor and Victoria Bryan; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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