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First commercial Flydubai flight takes off from Dubai to Tel Aviv

Emirati budget airline set to launch direct flights to and from Israel twice daily, with El Al, Israir expected to launch their own flights next month

In this Oct. 27, 2010 file photo, a Boeing 737 being delivered to FlyDubai is seen in Seattle (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
In this Oct. 27, 2010 file photo, a Boeing 737 being delivered to FlyDubai is seen in Seattle (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AFP) — Budget airline flydubai on Thursday launched direct flights to Tel Aviv, the first scheduled commercial service between the two cities, following the normalization of ties between the UAE and Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be on hand for the arrival of the inaugural flight after its nearly four-hour trip, his spokesman said.

“PM Netanyahu will attend this morning the welcoming ceremony for the first @flydubai commercial flight that will arrive at Ben-Gurion International Airport,” Ofir Gendelman said in a tweet.

“These are the fruits of peace Dear Emirati tourists, welcome to Israel!”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan wave from the Truman Balcony at the White House after they participated in the signing of the Abraham Accords, where the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognize Israel, in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

The United Arab Emirates in September signed a landmark US-brokered deal to formalize relations with Israel, the first such agreement by an Arab state in the Gulf.

With their economies hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE and Israel are hoping for rapid dividends from the normalization deal, including an influx of tourists as Dubai enters its winter high season.

“The start of scheduled flights will contribute to economic development and create further opportunities for investment,” flydubai CEO Ghaith al-Ghaith said when the service was announced earlier this month.

The Dubai carrier will fly the route twice daily, and Israeli airlines El Al and Israir are both expected to launch their commercial services between the cities next month.

Etihad Airways, based in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, has said it will begin flying to Tel Aviv in March 2021.

The UAE became only the third Arab country to normalize ties with Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

The two countries have already signed treaties on visa-free travel — although that is yet to come into force — along with accords on investment protection, science and technology.

Since the historic agreement, Bahrain and Sudan have followed suit and agreed to forge ties.

The agreements shattered a longstanding Arab consensus that there should be no normalization with Israel until it reaches a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.

US Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner (left) and US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien () disembark from the the El Al’s airliner, which is carrying a US-Israeli delegation to the UAE following a normalization accord, upon landing on the tarmac on August 31, 2020, in the first-ever commercial flight from Israel to the UAE at the Abu Dhabi airport. Behind them is Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat. (Karim SAHIB / AFP)

Several Gulf Arab states have for years been quietly building relations with Israel on the basis of shared animosity toward Iran, with the US supporting the process.

Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia has so far refrained from formalizing ties with Israel but has given the green light to overflights from the Jewish state, in an implicit sign of approval.

After the UAE deal was announced by US President Donald Trump in August, El Al flew a delegation of US and Israeli officials — led by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — to Abu Dhabi in a historic direct service between the two countries.

That was followed by an official visit by a UAE delegation to Tel Aviv as well as a string of charter flights carrying business groups.

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