UAE flight lands in Israel with medical aid for Palestinians

JERUSALEM (AP) — An Etihad Airways cargo plane carrying aid from the United Arab Emirates to help the Palestinians combat the coronavirus pandemic landed in Israel on Tuesday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said. It was the second direct commercial flight flew between the two countries in a month.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner decorated in the Gulf airline’s markings arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport carrying humanitarian aid provided by the UAE.

Last month, an unmarked Etihad commercial flight carrying medical equipment for the Palestinians landed in Israel — the first-ever direct commercial flight between the UAE and Israel.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that “the aid will be transferred to Gaza and the (Palestinian Authority) by the UN and COGAT,” Israel’s military body coordinating with the Palestinians. It said the plane’s arrival was coordinated with Israeli authorities.

The two flights have delivered some 16 tons of material, including personal protective equipment and around 15 ventilators, in response to an appeal led by the United Nations for the Palestinian people in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a U.N. official said.

The U.N. plans to distribute the equipment to the most needy Palestinians and is likely to send a large part to the Gaza Strip, the official said, noting the increased needs there and the particularly weak health infrastructure. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the operation with the media.

Last month’s flight marked a moment of cooperation between Israel and the UAE after years of rumored back-channel communications over the mutual concerns about Iran and other matters.

The UAE, home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the Arabian Peninsula, has no official diplomatic ties with Israel.

But the Palestinian leadership rejected the shipment, saying it hadn’t been coordinated with the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian officials are also concerned the flights are a step toward normalization. The aid from the first plane was set to be transferred to the Gaza Strip, and not the West Bank.

While not acknowledging Israel diplomatically, the Emirates have let Israeli officials visit and the Israeli national anthem was played after an athlete won gold at an Abu Dhabi judo tournament last year. Israel also has a small mission representing its interests at the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi.