Rocket halts flights to Israel as death toll climbs over 600 in Gaza

A relative carries a nine-year-old Palestinian girl, Shahed Qishtah, into the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahia after she was injured in an Israeli strike while playing on July 22 in the norhtern Gaza Strip. AFP Photo / Marco Longari

Major airlines blocked flights to Israel July 23 after a rocket from Gaza struck near airport runways, as the U.N. chief urged an end to a conflict that has killed 636 Palestinians and 31 Israelis.

As the violence entered its 16th day, neither Israel or Hamas appeared willing to end hostilities, despite days of diplomatic efforts to coax them into a truce.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on a visit to Tel Aviv, appealed on July 22 for the bitter rivals to "stop fighting" and "start talking."

However Israel insisted it would keep up its aerial and ground assault until it smashes cross-border tunnels used by Gaza militants to attack the Jewish state, while Hamas continued to fire rockets.

One crashed a few kilometres north of Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion international airport prompting the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority to ban commercial flights to and from Israel for at least 24 hours.

The European Aviation Safety Agency advised all carriers to avoid Tel Aviv "until further notice." The bans come after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was allegedly shot down by a missile over strife-torn eastern Ukraine, heightening sensitivity over aviation safety above warzones. It was the first time such measures had been taken since the 1990-1991 Gulf war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to lift the ban. "Netanyahu spoke this evening with ... Kerry and asked him to act to restore flights by American airline companies to Israel," sources in Netanyahu's office told AFP. Kerry said the order would be reviewed within in a day and told Netanyahu the ban was solely due to safety concerns, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Following top-level talks in Cairo, Ban...

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