BEIRUT, Lebanon, AP – A Middle East Airlines passenger jet flew into Beirut airport from Jordan on Thursday as officials partially lifted a 36-day Israeli air blockade.
It was the first commercial aircraft to fly to Rafik Hariri International Airport since July 13, when Israeli warplanes and gunboats punched holes in the three runways of the country’s only international air facility.
Two of the runways were damaged and a third has been used by relief flights and special flights.
A Royal Jordanian airliner was expected to fly into Beirut later in the afternoon.
The Israeli military said it had coordinated the MEA flight’s arrival, but warned it did not constitute an end to the air blockade.
MEA Chairman Mohammed Hout, who was on hand to welcome the plane, said the blockade had been partially lifted to allow flights only between Beirut and Amman. Transportation Minister Mohammed Safadi also confirmed the partial lifting of the siege.
Neither official gave a reason why traffic was allowed only through Amman. However, Jordan, along with Egypt, are the only two Arab countries which signed peace treaties with Israel and have full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
Airport officials said full commercial flights could resume next week.
Hout said in a statement that MEA had given a free ride to passengers who showed up for the flight from Amman. They were later to return to Jordan.
Israel imposed an air, naval and land blockade of Lebanon when the conflict began July 12 with Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. Israel said the aim was to prevent Hezbollah from rearming.
Since a U.N.-imposed cease-fire took hold on Monday, Israel said the blockade would continue to prevent Hezbollah from rearming.
France’s foreign minister, who visited Beirut on Wednesday, called for an end to the Israeli blockade.
Lebanese officials have said they are implementing security arrangements, particularly to search cargo.