Beirut airport reopens

BEIRUT – A passenger flight landed at Beirut international airport on Thursday for the first time in five weeks, easing an air blockade of Lebanon that Israel imposed during its war with Hizbollah guerrillas.

An Israeli naval blockade remains in force. A Lebanese governm

ent source said the air and sea blockades would be lifted gradually after Prime Minister Fouad Siniora had sought international support to get the airport and ports reopened.

An airliner belonging to Middle East Airlines (MEA), Lebanon’s flag carrier, landed at 1:10 p.m. (1010 GMT) from Jordan’s capital Amman. A Royal Jordanian flight was due to follow.

Scheduled flights were expected to resume next week.

British Airways franchise partner BMED was sending a plane carrying humanitarian aid to Beirut in the afternoon. The airline said it hoped to resume services early next week, initially offering four flights a week to London.

The airport shut on July 13 when Israel bombed its runways, one day after Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. The runways and fuel tanks were also hit in subsequent air raids. Only one of the three runways is operational.

During the 34-day war, Israel allowed only planes carrying humanitarian aid to land at the airport. A U.N.-backed truce halted the fighting on Monday.

MEA said that from Sunday, it would fly between Beirut and destinations in the Gulf region, Egypt and Africa, with flights going via Amman.

Five MEA planes that were in Beirut when the war broke out were flown to Amman for safety on July 14. MEA chairman Mohammed al-Hout said the passengers on Thursday’s flights from and to Amman would travel free. — Reuter