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Palm Beach County teens expected back from Israel despite flight ban [The Palm Beach Post, Fla. :: ]

July 23 -- A U.S. ban on flights to Israel was not expected to prevent a group of Palm Beach County teens from returning home today after a two-week mission trip to the country, Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of the Palm Beach Synagogue said Tuesday.

Scheiner said the teens from his temple were scheduled to fly home on an international carrier. Despite the ongoing conflict in the region, Scheiner said he was confident the group would make it home safely.

U.S. airlines halted flights to Israel on Tuesday after a rocket fell near Ben-Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv.

The Federal Aviation Administration prohibited U.S. carriers from flying to the Tel Aviv airport for 24 hours, highlighting the impact of the conflict in the Gaza Strip.

"I really don't understand why they are canceling flights," said Scheiner, who recently returned from a trip to Israel with his family. "I feel things are really safe. The ground war in Gaza is very dangerous. On the civilian side within Israel there really isn't any problem. Life is very normal there."

All three U.S. carriers with service to Israel -- Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways -- said they had suspended their flights.

The move comes at a time when airlines around the globe appeared to be much more sensitive about the risks of flying over conflict areas, after the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner over eastern Ukraine last week.

Scheiner said several teens from his temple who were scheduled to go on the annual trip canceled because of the ongoing conflict. The group traveled to Israel with the temple's youth rabbi to performing volunteer work for the poor and elderly.

Officials with the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County said the flight ban would not hurt the organization's efforts to reach out to Israeli residents impacted by the conflict. The federation works with other organizations to provide services to those in conflict zones, and those relief groups already have workers in Israel, said Jeff Trynz, a spokesman with the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.

"The partners that we work with on the ground are already on the ground, and they are already providing the services," Trynz said.

Delta suspended its service between Kennedy International Airport and Tel Aviv "until further notice" and did not indicate when it might resume flights. US Airways said that it canceled Tuesday's flight from Philadelphia and that it was in contact with federal authorities. United canceled its two daily flights from Newark Liberty International Airport on Tuesday.

Delta had a flight in the air on its way to Israel when the decision was made. Flight 468, a Boeing 747 with 273 passengers and 17 crew members aboard, was diverted to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris after the rocket fell in Yehud, a Tel Aviv suburb just north of the airport. According to Flightradar24.com, the plane was flying over Greece, about two hours from its destination, when it turned around and diverted to Paris.

Mary Hurley-Lane, owner of Eileen's Travel in West Palm Beach, said U.S. travelers could likely still find a flight to Tel Aviv by traveling on an international airline and connecting through another country. Hurley-Lane said the flight ban was not expected to impact any of her customers.

For the moment, European airlines are still operating their flights. British Airways, for instance, said it "continues to operate as normal" and is monitoring the situation closely.

Boca Raton resident David Pratt traveled to Israel this month with three other members of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County. Despite the conflict, Pratt said he would not discourage others from making the trip.

"I would still go to Israel at this time," Pratt said Tuesday. "Israel needs our support now more than ever."

Pratt spent five days in Israel -- two nights in Tel Aviv and three nights in Jerusalem -- as part of the Jewish Federation of North America's annual fund-raising campaign. Pratt was forced into bomb shelters three times during the trip after sirens sounded warning of possible missile strikes.

"I was in three rocket launches and each one we went to the nearest bomb shelter in a very swift and orderly fashion," said Pratt, who returned to the United States on July 14. "I didn't feel unsafe at all...I wouldn't necessarily be in the southern part of Israel near Gaza. I would certainly try to stay close to areas that are near shelters and be on the constant lookout."

Pratt said called the FAA's decision to ground flights "very precautionary measure."

"I am not in the position to say what is right or wrong, but while I was in Israel at all times I felt safe," Pratt said. "It appears that it may be overly precautious."

The New York Times contributed to this report.

The above article was posted on Bloomberg Businessweek's website on July 23, 2014.

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