Lebanese flag carrier MEA transfers operations to Damascus, estimates multimillion dollar loss due to Israeli offensive in Beirut

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By David Kaminski-Morrow in London

Lebanese national carrier Middle East Airlines has started operating services from the Syrian capital Damascus in a bid to restore its schedule in the wake of the Israeli offensive against the Lebanon.

The Lebanese carrier has been unable to operate from its base at Beirut international airport since Israeli military strikes damaged its runways and other infrastructure.

Several MEA aircraft were parked at Beirut at the time but were subsequently evacuated.

MEA has nine aircraft, comprising three Airbus A330s and six A321s. At least three – two A330s and an A321 – were repositioned to Larnaca, Cyprus, but the present location and status of the fleet is unclear.

The airline began operating from Damascus on 21 July, says an MEA source, and has been serving cities in Europe and the Gulf region, including Frankfurt, Paris, Riyadh and Dubai.

But the source says that passengers are having to make their own way to Damascus, and that an already-arduous situation has been exacerbated by the closure of border crossing points which has extended the journey.

“We’re trying to take all the passengers who want to fly,” says the source. “But the people are suffering a great deal.”

MEA has spent the last few years restructuring its operations and turning itself into a profitable carrier, and had even been moving towards flotation on the Beirut stock exchange as early as this year.

Precise effects of the continuing conflict on MEA’s financial position have yet to become apparent, but the source says that the disruption is likely to cost the airline “millions of dollars”.