US denies trying to pressure Israel with flight ban

The United States Tuesday denied that a ban on US airliners flying to Tel Aviv and a stark US travel warning were a ploy to push Israel to agree a Gaza truce.

"I would wholly disagree with that argument," deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, when asked if the two directives were a political move to put pressure on Israelis.

"We issued travel warnings because one of our top priorities is protecting US citizens overseas," she told reporters.

"This is a step we have taken when we've felt the situation on the ground warranted it. Obviously that is a process that we go through, that in no way is policy related or politically related."

Despite deep links between Americans and Israel, the State Department on Monday warned all US citizens against traveling to Israel, the West Bank or Gaza because of "ongoing hostilities."

But the State Department was not involved in the decision by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to bar US airliners from flying to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport for the next 24 hours.

"The FAA makes these decisions when they feel it's warranted, again, for the safety of United States citizens," Harf said, adding that the warning was in response to a "recent attack" by a Hamas rocket.

White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes also said on CNN that the FAA ban was not related to the travel warning.

"The State Department warning has to do with the general environment in Israel, where we've seen continued rocket fire from Hamas and continued conflict," Rhodes said.

The FAA directive "is a specific warning that has to do with the airport" after a rocket landed nearby, Rhodes said. Harf said it was "possible" that the flight ban could be prolonged beyond 24 hours.