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First Direct Immigrant Flight from Moscow is Anything but

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Journalists, officials and invited guests waited eagerly in the VIP room at Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday to greet the first direct immigrant flight to Israel from Moscow.

A giant chocolate cake was delivered for the occasion. But the cake was never cut.

Aerolicht Flight 2801 did not arrive. It returned to Moscow after Turkish authorities refused to let it fly through Turkish air space.

Aerolicht is a joint venture established by Aeroflot, the Soviet national airline, and Ya’acov Nimrodi, an Israeli businessman.

Nimrodi stepped in after negotiations between Aeroflot and El Al, Israel’s national carrier, for a joint service linking Moscow and Tel Aviv broke down over market share and security arrangements.

His project got off to an inauspicious start because the Turks, who never heard of Aerolicht, refused to give it clearance.

Nimrodi blamed the snafu on everyone, including Aeroflot, the Israeli consular establishment in Moscow and the Jewish Agency for Israel. The Jewish Agency called the new venture “amateurish” and incapable of attracting immigrants.

Sources in Moscow said that if the inaugural flight had reached Tel Aviv, it would have been an embarrassment. Instead of the 300 to 400 immigrants” expected, the plane carried only eight.

But Nimrodi is not giving up. He promised that direct daily immigrant flights will begin next week, not only from Moscow but from St. Petersburg — known until recently as Leningrad — as well as Minsk, Tbilisi and Baku.

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