An Etihad Airways plane took off from the UAE capital in Israel on Tuesday to deliver coronavirus aid to the Palestinians, the airline said, marking the first known direct commercial flight between the two countries.
The flight took place while the United Arab Emirates had no official diplomatic relations with Israel, while there are no commercial flights between the two states.
However, this marks an open moment of cooperation between the countries after years of rumors of behind-the-scenes discussions between them on mutual enmity towards Iran, its regional rival.
In the past, private and diplomatic aircraft often had to fly to a third country before heading to Israel.
Etihad, a state-owned long-haul carrier, confirmed that it had sent a flight on Tuesday to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.
“Etihad Airways operated a dedicated humanitarian cargo flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv on May 19 to provide medical supplies to the Palestinians,” the airline told the Associated Press news agency.
The UAE government did not provide immediate comment.
Videos showed the crew of Ben-Gurion airport unloading stacks of cardboard boxes with large banners above them: “UAE AID: for Palestine to fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19)” .
According to a statement by the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, the United Nations said it had coordinated the shipment of 14 tonnes of “urgent medical supplies” from the United Arab Emirates to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in the Palestinian territories. (UNSCO).
“The aid includes personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical equipment. It includes 10 fans that are absolutely necessary, ”added the press release.
It was not immediately clear whether the 14 tonnes of aid had been transported on Etihad’s cargo flight on Tuesday. Etihad was not mentioned in the UNSCO statement.
Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank made no immediate comments. Health officials in the Hamas-led Gaza Strip said they were not aware of any aid shipments to Gaza from Abu Dhabi.
An Israeli official said the flight would deliver humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates to the Palestinians and that the cargo flight was coordinated with the Israeli government. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the subject’s sensitivity.
Neither the Gaza Strip nor the West Bank have their own airport, which means that most cargo destined for Palestinian territory must enter through Israel.