Israel signs controversial EU open-skies pact

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Israeli and European Union representatives have signed a comprehensive and controversial air transport pact which is designed to open the market between the two sides.

The agreement, formally signed in Luxembourg on 10 June, has previously generated protests within Israel over claims that an open-skies arrangement will harm the country's airlines.

But the European Commission says that the agreement to integrate the markets and gradually establish a common aviation area will "offer economic benefits for consumers and new opportunities for the industry".

"We expect to see more direct flights to and from Israel, lower prices, more jobs and economic benefits on both sides," says European transport commissioner Siim Kallas.

All European Union airlines will be able to operate flights to Israel while Israeli carriers will be able to operate flights to airports throughout the EU.

By 2018 the market will be "fully open", says the Commission, with no restrictions on the number of flights. "The gradual implementation of the agreement will give sufficient time for air carriers on both sides to prepare for increased competition," it adds.