Israel, Rwanda to open direct flight between countries ‘within months’

Aviation agreement caps several weeks of talks between Transportation Ministry and Kigali amid Israeli bid to boost diplomatic ties with Africa

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

A RwandAir plane, September 21, 2016. (Wikipedia/Pedro Aragão CC-BY-SA-3.0)
A RwandAir plane, September 21, 2016. (Wikipedia/Pedro Aragão CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Rwanda’s national airline will start operating regular flights to and from Israel in the coming months after the two countries on Monday signed a bilateral agreement as part of the Open Skies aviation reform.

The development comes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Rwandan President Paul Kagame agreed in September to open embassies in each other’s countries, amid a diplomatic flurry that has seen Jerusalem develop closer ties with other African nations such as Chad.

The civil aviation authorities of Israel and Rwanda conducted several weeks of talks regarding the air service agreement, which has been signed by Transportation Minister Israel Katz and Rwandan ambassador to Israel Joseph Rutabana.

RwandAir intends to start operating its new Kigali-Tel Aviv line within a few months, Rutabana said according to a statement from Israel’s Transportation Ministry.

On Twitter, Rutabana said it was an “important step.” Katz tweeted that “the skies are opening to Africa as well!”

The new agreement allows for each country to operate up to seven weekly flights between Ben Gurion and Kigali airports, without restrictions regarding the planes’ type or capacity.

Israeli security officials have recently visited Rwanda’s airport and concluded that it is compatible with Israeli safety and security standards.

In April, Rwanda denied it had made an agreement with Israel to take in deported asylum seekers, responding to Netanyahu’s claim that it had backed out of a deal he had spent two years working on.

Kigali International Airport in Kigali, Rwanda on March 5, 2006. (Wikipedia/SteveRwanda CC BY-SA 3.0)

Netanyahu said at the time that he had been “working with Rwanda so that it will serve as a third-party country to absorb” deported migrants.

He made the claim after freezing an agreement with the UN refugee agency that would have seen thousands of African migrants given temporary status in Israel and others deported to Western countries.

The agreement with the UN, which was meant to replace the discarded deportation deal with Rwanda, was dropped by the prime minister hours after he announced it, amid fierce criticism from parts of his right-wing base.

No alternative to that scrapped deal has so far been reached.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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