General airport strike called after Israeli lawmakers OK ‘open skies’ agreement


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Ben Gurion Airport workers will launch a sympathy strike for the employees of three Israeli airlines, shutting down the airport for at least several hours. 

The strike in sympathy with the workers of El Al, Arkia and Israir will start at 5 a.m. Tuesday, the Histadrut labor union announced. All El Al flights scheduled to leave Israel before 9 p.m. Tuesday have been canceled.

The general airport strike comes after Israel’s Cabinet on Sunday approved an "open skies" agreement with the European Union. Employees of the three airlines went on strike over the deal hours before it was approved.

The European-Mediterranean Sea aviation agreement approved Sunday allows European airlines to increase their flights to Israel for five years, which could substantially decrease the costs of airline tickets for Israeli travelers to Europe.

The Histadrut says the deal could mean thousands of layoffs by the three airlines. Employees of the three airlines picketed outside the Knesset during the vote.

The airlines went on strike at 5 a.m. Sunday. Dozens of flights by the three airlines were moved up to avoid the strike deadline.

"The goal of the reform that we approved today is to lower the prices of flights to and from Israel and to increase incoming tourism," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday following the agreement’s passage.

El Al stock dropped 7 percent on Sunday following the start of the strike and the passage of the agreement.

The agreement was signed initially by the Israeli Civil Aviation Authority and the European Commission last July following three years of negotiations.

Fifty-three takeoffs and 38 landings, affecting 15,591 passengers, were scheduled on the three Israeli airlines for Sunday at Ben Gurion Airport, Haaretz reported, citing the Israel Airports Authority.

Israel’s Channel 10 on Saturday night reported on an internal Transportation Ministry report warning that El Al could collapse in the wake of an open skies agreement.

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