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Israel's 3 airlines strike over "Open Skies" proposal with EU that union says threatens jobs

Israel's three airlines went on strike Sunday over a proposed "Open Skies" deal with the European Union that local workers say jeopardizes their jobs.

EL AL, Arkia and Israir stopped their outbound flights from Israel early Sunday morning. The strike does not affect flights by international carriers.

The agreement would reduce restrictions on European carriers for using Israeli airspace, increasing competition. The Israeli Cabinet was set to vote on the deal later in the day.

Ofer Eini, head of the powerful Histadrut labor union, told Israel Radio that he favors open skies, but Israel's small airline fleets and high security costs make it hard to compete with international carriers. He said the deal could cause local airlines to collapse. Eini warned that thousands of jobs are at risk.

He said the debate should be postponed by a month to improve the proposal's terms and make sure jobs are secure. He indicated that the strike could be broadened if the deal is approved Sunday.

Transport Minister Yisrael Katz told Israel Radio that he expected the proposal to be approved. He said the deal would benefit the economy by increasing tourism and reducing ticket prices.