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Lebanon airline, EgyptAir and FlyDubai cancel flights to Irbil

Sep 28

Lebanon's flagship carrier airline said its last flights to and from Irbil, the capital in Iraq's Kurdish region, will be Friday in compliance with Iraqi civil aviation authorities, the company's chairman said Wednesday.

Mohamad El-Hout, chairman of Middle East Airlines, said the decision came after Iraqi authorities decided to ban all flights to and from Irbil and Sulaimaniyah, the capital and second city of the Kurdish region.

'We are committed to implement' the decision, El-Hout said.

Two other airlines in the region — EgyptAir and FlyDubai — said Wednesday they would also cancel flights to Irbil.

The airlines' decision comes after the Kurdish region claimed victory in an independence referendum that has been vehemently rejected by Baghdad and Iraq's other neighbors.

Iraq's Transport Ministry has ordered all international carriers to suspend flights to the Kurdish region starting Friday. Iraq's Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has given the Kurds until Friday to hand over control of their airports to federal authorities or face a flight ban.

From Irbil, the transport minister for Iraq's Kurdish region said Wednesday the region's international airports have not violated any laws that would warrant their closure.

Mawlood Bawa Murad said his ministry is ready to negotiate with Baghdad 'if they want to implement the law and show that Iraq has one air space,' he said at a news conference.

The flight ban would affect 'one way or another, the military aviation that operates from Irbil international airport,' Murad said. 'And Irbil international has become a launching pad for coalition air forces in the fight against Daesh.'

EgyptAir said in a statement it would suspend flights between Cairo and Irbil starting Friday, citing the Iraqi order. The airline flies between Cairo and Irbil three times per week.

Low-cost airline FlyDubai said its flights to the Iraqi city of Irbil are in question from Saturday on. The carrier said in a statement to The Associated Press that its flight Friday will operate as scheduled.

However, it said: 'We are aware of the situation and are liaising with our local representative regarding our operations' from Saturday.

The Lebanese airline has one flight per day to Irbil. It has no flights to Sulaimaniyah.

'This will affect the airline and contacts there,' El-Hout said in a telephone interview. He said Lebanese and other travelers seeking to come to Beirut can still travel to Baghdad or Basra because domestic flights continue operating.