US airlines have been forced to sell their tickets to Israeli passengers in the Gaza Strip after an American Airlines ticket that had been cancelled in the region sparked an international outcry.
The US State Department issued a statement saying the tickets had been sold by the airline on the basis that they were valid in Israel, where a conflict has been raging since November.
But a US Department of State spokeswoman told Al Jazeera that the airline had already sold its ticket to passengers who had been granted Israeli travel permits to enter Israel.
“The United States does not allow American Airlines to issue or issue tickets to individuals in the territory of the state of Israel,” said Marie Harf.
“However, the United States allows the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to issue and issue tickets.”
The spokeswoman added that US airlines had already issued refunds to passengers.
The airline said it had sold the tickets to American and other companies in Israel.
Al Jazeera’s Sarah El-Fagell, reporting from the Gaza city of Beit Lahiya, said the ticket had been issued in the wake of the outbreak of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
She said American Airlines was offering to fly to Israel for about $600 (£350).
“If they were not going to sell it to American passengers, then they would have had to buy it from some other company and fly it to Israel,” she said.
Al Qaeda-linked groups have been using the Gaza-based Hamas military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (Izz-DIN) to launch rocket attacks into Israel.
Last week, US President Donald Trump announced that he would ban American companies from selling weapons to Hamas in Gaza.
The announcement came days after the US State department announced that US citizens would no longer be able to travel to the Palestinian territory, including Israel.
Israel’s foreign ministry said the decision had been taken as a “last resort”.
“The decision to ban US airlines from operating in Israel has been taken on the last minute to avoid an embarrassing incident for the US,” it said in a statement.
“Israel is not a destination country for US aircraft and the decision is based on a variety of factors including operational security and security requirements.”