British airline BMI has apologised after in-flight maps on its London-Tel Aviv service did not identify Israel.

The moving maps marked Islamic holy sites but showed only the city of Haifa, identified by its Arabic name, Khefa.

Israeli officials accused BMI of trying to “hide the existence of Israel”.

But BMI said it was a technical error – the maps had not been changed since the planes were taken over from a former airline which flew to the Middle East.

“If BMI had any political agenda in order not to anger neighbouring countries, it would not have invested so much in the Tel Aviv line,” AFP news agency quoted a spokesman as saying.

BMED, which was taken over by BMI in 2007, had flown from the UK to many Muslim countries in the Middle East and so the maps had pointed out sites which were relevant to passengers.

A BMI spokesman told the BBC the maps should have been deactivated before the planes were deployed on the new route but “due to a technical error this did not take place”.

Israeli transport ministry Director General Gideon Sitterman, said it was “unacceptable” that Israel had been “wiped off the map”.

“Doing business with Israel has its advantages and disadvantages, but we will not agree to a situation where they hide the existence of Israel but want to do business with Israel,” he told Israeli army radio.

BMI has withdrawn the two planes from service while new maps are installed, but said larger planes had been scheduled to take over the route last Sunday anyway.

The spokesman told the BBC that it had been a genuine error.