An unmarked Etihad Airways cargo plane flew aid to help the Palestinians fight the coronavirus pandemic from the capital of the United Arab Emirates into Israel on Tuesday, marking the first known direct commercial flight between the two nations.
The UAE, home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the Arabian Peninsula, has no diplomatic ties to Israel over its occupation of land wanted by the Palestinians for a future state, like all Arab nations except Egypt and Jordan.
Yet the flight marked a moment of cooperation between Israel and the UAE after years of rumored back-channel discussions between them over the mutual enmity of Iran and other issues.
Etihad, the state-owned, long-haul carrier based in Abu Dhabi, confirmed it sent a flight Tuesday to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.
“Etihad Airways operated a dedicated humanitarian cargo flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv ... to provide medical supplies to the Palestinians,” the airline told The Associated Press. “The flight had no passengers on board.”
In the past, private and diplomatic planes often had to travel to a third country before heading onto Israel.
Emirati government officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency later issued a statement saying it delivered 14 tons of protective gear, medical items and ventilators “to curb the spread of (the) COVID-19 pandemic and its impact in the occupied Palestinian territory.” It did not acknowledge the flight’s significance.
The cargo flight landed at Ben Gurion on Tuesday night, with ground crews pulling out pallets of cargo bearing both the Emirati and Palestinian flags. It will go toward U.N. efforts to fight the outbreak.
Neither the Gaza Strip nor the West Bank have their own airports, meaning most cargo bound for Palestinian territory must enter through Israel. That likely required an airlift of the material from the UAE, which hosts humanitarian stockpiles for the United Nations.