UAE’s state-owned Etihad Airways has made a first known flight to the Israeli-occupied territories with the alleged goal of delivering aid to Palestinians as Arab regimes and Tel Aviv scale up their attempts to normalize relations.
Ethihad, the flag carrier of the UAE, sent a cargo flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv on May 19 to “provide medical supplies to the Palestinians” amid a coronavirus outbreak, the airline told the Associated Press.
There were no passengers on board the commercial plane, it added.
The Israel Airports Authority also confirmed the flight’s landing at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday night.
An Israeli official, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the flight was coordinated with the Tel Aviv regime and similarly claimed it would be delivering humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.
Footage showed crew at Ben Gurion Airport offloading stacks of cardboard boxes with large banners over them reading, “UAE AID: for Palestine to fight coronavirus (COVID-19).”
The Palestinian Authority officials did not comment on the flight, while Gaza’s health officials said they had no knowledge of any aid shipment from Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile, the office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process said that it had coordinated a 16-ton shipment of “urgent medical supplies” from the UAE to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in the Palestinian territories.
However, it was not immediately clear whether the Palestine-bound aid supplies had been transported on the Etihad cargo flight.
Israel and the UAE do not have formal diplomatic relations, but have long had clandestine contacts, according to widespread reports.
In recent years, the UAE — along with other Persian Gulf Arab states — has made several overt moves hinting at warmer ties with the Tel Aviv regime, including letting in Israeli athletes and officials.
Last year, Israel’s then foreign minister Israel Katz visited Abu Dhabi. A year earlier, the regime’s sports minister also flew to the UAE capital where she went on a public tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Private UAE jet evacuates Israelis from Morocco
Separately on Tuesday, Israel’s Channel 12 reported that a chartered VIP plane owned by an Emirati royal had repatriated dozens of Israelis stranded in Morocco.
According to the report, Israeli regime officials had contacted their counterparts in the UAE two weeks ago to arrange the secret flight after a countrywide coronavirus-related lockdown was imposed in Morocco on March 15.
Video of the repatriation, which has been circulated on social media, shows the Israelis aboard a lavish jet complete with pristine white leather sofas, a private meeting room, and even a gold enamel sink.
Earlier Israeli media reports said 26 members of a group of 36 nationals, who were stranded in Morocco for nearly two months due to travel restrictions, had been repatriated last week in a “complex rescue operation” involving “philanthropic aerial assistance.”
The remaining 10 are believed to have died of COVID-19.
-UAE’s Etihad Airways