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World News

Abu Dhabi's Etihad makes first known flight to Israel, carrying Palestinian aid

DUBAI/TEL AVIV (Reuters) - An Etihad Airways plane flew from the United Arab Emirates to Israel on Tuesday to deliver coronavirus supplies to the Palestinians, a spokeswoman for the Abu Dhabi airline said, marking the first known flight by a UAE carrier to Israel.

A cargo plane operated by Etihad Airways offloads aid related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for Palestinians, at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel May 19, 2020. Israel Airports Authority office/Handout via REUTERS

Israel does not have diplomatic relations with any of the six Gulf Arab countries, and there are no commercial flights between them.

However, shared concerns over Iran’s influence in the region have led to a discrete thaw in ties between Israel and the Arab Gulf in recent years.

That thaw has been accompanied by a slight relaxation of stringent air travel rules. In 2018, Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for the first time to a commercial flight to Israel - an Air India route between New Delhi and Tel Aviv.

“Etihad Airways operated a dedicated humanitarian cargo flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv on May 19 to provide medical supplies to the Palestinians,” an Etihad spokeswoman said, adding that there were no passengers on board.

Video showed crew at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport offloading stacks of cardboard boxes with large banners over them reading: “UAE AID: for Palestine to fight Coronavirus (COVID-19).”

The United Nations coordinated a 16-tonne shipment of “urgent medical supplies” from the UAE to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in the Palestinian territories, according to a statement from the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO).

“The aid includes personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical equipment. Most notably, it includes 10 ventilators that are acutely needed,” the statement added.

It was not immediately clear whether the 16 tonnes of aid were transported on the Tuesday Etihad cargo flight. Etihad was not mentioned in the UNSCO statement.

Palestinian officials in the Israeli-occupied West Bank had no immediate comment. Health officials in the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, said they had no knowledge of any aid shipment for Gaza from Abu Dhabi.

(This story is officially corrected to adjust the size of aid shipment in paragraphs 7 and 9 from 14 tonnes to 16 tonnes, per corrected U.N. statement)

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Dubai and Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Alex Richardson

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