Israel briefly closes airport after rocket warning

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel briefly prevented landings at an airport in the Red Sea resort of Eilat on Thursday, as Egyptian officials warned of possible rocket attacks coming from its territory on the Sinai Peninsula.

The partial closure was in effect for about two hours before being lifted Thursday evening, said a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner.

Lerner said the decision to close the Eilat airport was made as a result of a security assessment, but did not elaborate.

Eilat, on Israel’s southern tip, is a major destination for domestic and international tourists. It is close to the Sinai, where Islamic militants and tribesmen engaged in smuggling and other criminal activity have defied Egyptian security forces for years.

An Egyptian security official told The Associated Press that the country received intelligence suggesting terrorist groups planned to fire missiles Friday at Israel, as well as at locations in northern Sinai and the Suez Canal. The official said Egypt informed Israel about the risk, sparking the airport closure.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak with journalists. He also said that Egyptian authorities planned to start air patrols Thursday night over the Naqab desert in the Egyptian Sinai, where officials believe the militants are based.

Militants have fired rockets from the Sinai toward Eilat in the past.

Egyptian airports in the Sinai operated normally into Thursday night despite the warning, including those in the resort cities of Sharm el-Sheikh and Taba, said Gad el-Karim Nasr, the head of state-owned Egyptian Airports Co. Taba is only 10 kilometers (six miles) from Eilat.

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Associated Press writer Ashraf Sweilam in Al-Arish, Egypt, contributed to this report.

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