A bitter labor dispute involving employes of the Israeli national airline El Al forced the closing today of Ben-Gurion International Airport where disgruntled El Al employes rolled two aircraft onto the runways to prevent planes from taking off and from landing.
Accompanied by children who chanted, "Let my father work," the El Al employes raced around the airport shouting slogans and setting fire to tires.
The workers are fighting a threat by the Israeli government to liquidate the airline unless they agree to a six-point "statement of principles" that would give the El Al management increased power to dismiss workers and change work rules.
Last Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet voted to begin the liquidation process unless the employes agreed to the management statement in the next three weeks.
Negotiations reportedly were to be resumed tonight, but meanwhile hundreds of the El Al workers continued to occupy the airport premises.
The bitter labor dispute has grounded El Al since last month, and once before forced the shutdown of Ben-Gurion airport, the country's only international airport.
Israeli radio said 12 workers and police were hurt during the airport disturbance, the most serious since the labor dispute began.
Three people were arrested, but the radio said police refused to move against the workers on the runways as long as they were accompanied by women and children.
The El Al workers began their violent demonstration last night, and many stayed at the airport overnight.
They were joined this morning by others, and by members of their families.
At noon today, they took over the runways, towing an El Al 747 cargo jet and a 707 passenger aircraft on to the runways to block other planes.