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Iraq minister offers to pay for diverted MEA flight

A middle east airlines (MEA) airplane is seen in the tarmac of Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Iraq’s transport minister is prepared to pay for the losses incurred when a plane from Beirut to Baghdad was forced to turn around because his son had missed the flight. Hadi al-Amiri told a news conference Sunday that he would hand his son over to the authorities and compensate those involved out of his own pocket, if he is found to have been responsible for the incident.

Twenty minutes into the flight Thursday, the pilot of the Middle East Airlines flight was told by the head of MEA in Baghdad that he would not be allowed to land because Amiri’s son, Mahdi, was not on board. The pilot was instructed to return to Beirut to collect Mahdi the following day.

MEA said the flight, carrying 71 passengers, departed six minutes late because the crew waited for Mahdi, who still failed to appear.

The incident caused uproar in Iraq and Lebanon, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promising to punish those who were responsible.

Iraqi authorities Friday arrested Baghdad Airport Assistant Manager Samer Kibbeh during a raid on his office in connection with the case.

Amiri arrived in Beirut Saturday in an effort to ease tensions. He was greeted at Rafik Hariri International Airport by Lebanon’s Transport Minister Ghazi Zeaiter and MEA Chairman Mohammad Hout.

Speaking to reporters at the airport, he said: “The purpose of the visit is to strengthen ties between [Lebanon and Iraq] and affirm that the incident that happened recently will not affect the deep ties between Baghdad and Beirut.”

“The visit is also aimed at reaching an understanding [with Lebanon] in order to resolve such instances without a media frenzy,” he added.

“This will pass and our ties will remain as strong. We even have the desire to develop them further.”

He did not comment at the time on media reports regarding the role of his son, but vowed that he would hold those responsible to account.

Meanwhile, Hout said his company welcomed Amiri’s visit and announced the opening of MEA’s new Beirut-Basra route that will run an average of two flights per week.

The MEA chairman added that last week’s incident would not affect Lebanon’s ties with Iraq and emphasized that the airline would continue its flights to Baghdad as usual.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 10, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

Iraq's transport minister is prepared to pay for the losses incurred when a plane from Beirut to Baghdad was forced to turn around because his son had missed the flight.

Twenty minutes into the flight Thursday, the pilot of the Middle East Airlines flight was told by the head of MEA in Baghdad that he would not be allowed to land because Amiri's son, Mahdi, was not on board.

The MEA chairman added that last week's incident would not affect Lebanon's ties with Iraq and emphasized that the airline would continue its flights to Baghdad as usual.


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