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The disappearance of a commercial jetliner over northern Mali on Thursday is the latest in a string of airliners flying over conflict areas that is heightening international concern about flight paths.

Initial reports indicate bad weather may have been a factor when an Air Algérie flight en route to Algiers from Burkina Faso with 116 people aboard disappeared over Northern Mali and probably crashed, according to the French government.

The area is known for fighting for the past two years. Northern Mali fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaeda-linked Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led intervention last year scattered the extremists, but the Tuaregs have since pushed back.

AIR ALGERIE: Plane with 116 aboard crashes in Mali

A senior French official told the Associated Press it was unlikely that fighters in Mali had weaponry that could shoot down a commercial jetliners. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak for attribution, said the fighters have shoulder-fired weapons that could not hit an aircraft at cruising altitude.

The loss of the Air Algérie flight comes a week after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed while flying over east Ukraine, another area of unrest, this one between Ukraine national forces and pro-Russian separatists. The U.S. government alleges it was downed by a surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian separatists. All 298 on board that flight were killed.

The Flight 17 crash prompted questions about why passenger jets continued to fly over an active war zone, where military planes have been shot down, most recently on Tuesday. Since the crash, airlines have avoided flying over the region, a convenient flight path between Western Europe and southern Asia.

The Federal Aviation Administration had previously cautioned airlines about flying that route. Last year, it warned commercial airliners of the risk of flying over Mali.

On Tuesday, the FAA banned U.S. commercial flights into Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport after a rocket from Gaza struck about a mile away. The FAA lifted the ban just before midnight Wednesday.

The European Aviation Safety Agency also had recommended suspending flights into Ben Gurion earlier in the week.

"Airlines overfly conflicted areas all the time, whether it's in the Middle East or wherever it might be," Kees Rietsema, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Phoenix told The Washington Post last week.

Rietsema, an Air Force veteran and former commercial pilot who also served as a staff member at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added: "From a strictly legal perspective, you can overfly that closed airspace and there's no one telling you you can't be there, but on the other hand I would say that you also are assuming the risk on your own that something untoward could happen."

Contributing: Doug Stanglin; The Associated Press


Algerian aviation official confirms the crash of an Air Algerie operated flight owned by the Spanish private company Swiftair, carrying 110 passengers and six crew from Burkina Faso. Video provided by Reuters Newslook

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