Friday, February 22, 2008

Israel to Passengers: Please Return to Your Seats

Israel has ordered airlines to require passengers to return to their seats sooner than in the past before landing as a precaution against would-be hijackers, a newspaper reported on Friday. The measure follows the assassination last week of top Hizbullah commander Imad Mughniyeh in a Damascus car bomb. The Shiite group blamed the killing on Israel and has declared open war on the Jewish state everywhere in the world.

Israel has denied any involvement, but is taking no chances and has been beefing up security at home and abroad.

Yediot Aharonot said the transport ministry has ordered all airlines to have passengers in their seats from a distance of about 290 kilometers (180 miles), or half an hour, from the Israeli coast.

Until now passengers were asked to sit and fasten their seat belts only when the plane was about 150 kilometers, or 15 minutes, from shore. No one at the ministry could be reached for comment on the report.

The newspaper said "it was feared terrorists would infiltrate a plane and try to take it over only in the last stage of the flight, upon entering Israeli airspace. The closer this takeover is to Israel's shores, the harder it will be for the security forces to react quickly."

It quoted a flight expert as saying "even scrambling combat jets takes a few minutes, and the last stage of the flight is therefore the most critical."

Not only will passengers have to be in their places sooner, so will the pilots, who will be required to lock themselves in the cockpit earlier.

Since last week's death of Mughniyeh, Israel has begun stepping up security at home and abroad, fearing reprisals from Hizbullah.(AFP-Naharnet)


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