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Despite PA objections, UN still hoping to get UAE virus aid to West Bank, Gaza

Second installment to be sent to Ashdod port once it clears customs at airport; from there, entire shipment to be distributed to both Palestinian territories, official says

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

An Etihad Airways flight with aid for the Palestinians to fight the coronavirus pandemic is unloaded at Ben Gurion Airport on May 19, 2020. (Nickolay Mladenov/Twitter)
An Etihad Airways flight with aid for the Palestinians to fight the coronavirus pandemic is unloaded at Ben Gurion Airport on May 19, 2020. (Nickolay Mladenov/Twitter)

Despite objections from the Palestinian Authority, the United Nations hopes to transfer two large shipments of coronavirus-related medical supplies, both flown from the United Arab Emirates to Israel, to both the West Bank and Gaza in the coming days, a UN official told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

The UAE-donated aid has not been shipped from Israel to the Gaza Strip, contrary to Hebrew media reports. The first shipment, which arrived on the first-ever direct flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv on May 19, is currently sitting in a holding facility in the southern coastal city of Ashdod. The second shipment, which arrived last Tuesday, was still clearing customs at Ben Gurion Airport, the UN official said. Once it joins the first shipment at Ashdod, they will be sent out to the Gaza Strip and West Bank, “hopefully in the coming days,” he added.

Officials from the office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process will be meeting with local representatives from the World Health Organization to discuss how the nearly two dozen tons of medical supplies will be distributed.

While the intention is to send the medical supplies — including 15 ventilators — to both Palestinian territories, a UN official made clear last month that there was a much greater need for it in the Gaza Strip.

A cargo plane operated by Etihad Airways, carrying medical aid for Palestinians related to the coronavirus Covid-19 disease, prepares to land at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on June 9, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The UN conducted an assessment of the ongoing medical situations in both territories, where it operates extensively, and determined that roughly 65 percent of the UAE shipment should go to Gaza while the remainder could go to the West Bank, the official said at the time.

Therefore, if the Palestinian Authority, which governs in the West Bank, continues to reject the aid, the coordinators hope they will still be able to have it transferred to Gaza where the Hamas terror group, rather than the PA, holds sway.

Israel did not initiate the aid package, but had been involved in coordinating the arrival of both shipments, with the Foreign Ministry giving each of the UAE’s Etihad Airlines flights red carpet treatment upon landing. While the first cargo jet was painted in all white and lacking any marking, the second one sported the Etihad logo and the UAE flag. Israel and the UAE do not have official diplomatic ties but maintain clandestine relations over the shared threat of Iran.

An Etihad Airways plane ferrying medical aid for the Palestinians at Ben Gurion Airport on May 19, 2020. It was the first known commercial flight between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The Palestinians reiterated last week that it would refuse the medical supplies from the UAE, since it had been coordinated with Israel rather than with them.

“We refuse to receive it because it was coordinated directly between Israel and them (the UAE),” PA civil affairs minister Hussein al-Sheikh told AFP. “We were not part of the coordination.”

While Israeli officials lauded the direct flight as evidence of further warming ties with Abu Dhabi, UAE’s ambassador to the US warned last Friday that plans to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank would destroy any hopes for further rapprochement between the Jewish state and the Arab world.

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