Israel operators cope with State Dept. warning

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NEW YORK -- Operators to Israel began setting policies to cover trip cancellations stemming from the U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf, following Iraq's suspension of U.N. weapons inspections.

The U.S. State Department on Nov. 11 issued a warning regarding travel to Israel and Kuwait, both of which suffered Iraqi aggression during the Persian Gulf war in 1991. It authorized nonessential personnel to leave the two countries if they wished and added that "private American citizens may want to consider departing [either] country."

"Iraq's continued defiance of the will of the international community [is] heightening the level of risk to American citizens in the Middle East," the warning said.

Meir Weingarten, manager of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Ariel Tours, which specializes in FITs to the Holy Land, said his firm "prefers to apply [funds already paid] to future trips."

Isram World of Travel in New York received calls from travelers about to depart for Israel as soon as news about gas mask distribution there became public here. According to the firm's vice president of marketing Eileen Lowe Hart, Isram is telling clients "to hold onto their reservations."

If any trip arrangements have to be canceled because of military action in the area, "any deposits they might have paid will be held for a year from the date they were due to depart and can be applied to future travel to Israel or any of Isram's other destinations," she said.

Stuart Katz, president of Tal Tours in Valley Stream, N.Y., reported "no new bookings and no cancelations," and said it was too early to know what the impact might be for the upcoming holiday season.

A spokeswoman for El Al, Israel's national airline, said there had been no cancellations by some 3,000 leaders of Jewish federation groups around the U.S. who were flying to Israel for their Nov. 16 international gathering there.

The Israel Ministry of Tourism could not be reached for comment.

Israel is not in the Persian Gulf region, does not border Iraq and did not participate in the Persian Gulf War, but Iraq at that time singled it out for punishment, using long-range scud missiles.

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