Second UAE plane carrying virus aid for Palestinians lands in Israel

Unlike first flight, aircraft bears airline logo and UAE flag; UN official says shipment will be sent to Ashdod, in hint Gaza will be final destination

An Etihad airlines cargo plane at Ben-Gurion airport on June 9, 2020. (Moni Shiffer/Israel Airports Authority)

The UAE’s Etihad Airlines landed a direct flight from Abu Dhabi in Israel for just the second time ever on Tuesday night, carrying a second shipment of medical supplies to assist the Palestinians in coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike the first flight last month, the Dreamliner 787 used Tuesday carried the Etihad logo and the United Arab Emirates flag.

The Foreign Ministry said it helped coordinate the flight and that the aid will be transferred by the United Nations to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

“Proud of @IsraelMFA’s role in facilitating the arrival of the @etihad cargo plane,” Foreign Ministry director Yuval Rotem tweeted. “We hope that future ETIHAD flights landing here will be carrying #UAE tourists.”

An Ethiad spokeswoman said earlier Tuesday that the airline “continues to operate humanitarian flights, providing much-needed aid to nations within its network and beyond.”

A UN official told The Times of Israel that the plane is carrying the second shipment of a pre-planned two-part consignment.

Once it clears customs and security checks, the aid will be dispatched to a holding terminal at the Ashdod seaport, where the first part of the shipment is waiting.

The decision to send the goods to Ashdod indicates they will likely end up in Gaza and not the West Bank.

The first shipment — 14 tons of medical supplies earmarked for the Palestinians to help cope with the coronavirus pandemic — was delayed at Ben Gurion Airport last month as UN officials worked to find a way to distribute it after the Palestinian Authority announced it would not accept it.

The PA insisted the UAE had not coordinated the matter with it, and that it therefore could not accept the aid, whose delivery via plane to Tel Aviv was seen as a step toward the normalization of ties between Israel and the Gulf states.

However, a UN official made clear to The Times of Israel at the time that there was far greater need for the supplies in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas, rather than the PA, holds sway.

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 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 the Gaza while the remainder could go to the West Bank, the official said.

A Palestinian official told the Al-Jazeera network Tuesday that the second flight also arrived without coordination with the Palestinian Authority.

“The Palestinian Authority has nothing to do with UAE plane scheduled to land at Ben Gurion Airport. As far as I know, no coordination has been made with the authority on the matter,” the unnamed official said, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Relations between Israel and the PA are at a low point due to Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank next month.

Meanwhile, in a further sign of warming ties between Israel and the UAE, earlier Tuesday the Foreign Ministry’s Twitter account for the Gulf region congratulated Abu Dhabi ahead of the launch of its probe to Mars, the first Arab space mission to the Red Planet.

“We wish good luck to the United Arab Emirates on a scientific level and hope this move will contribute to deepening cooperation between all countries of the region,” the tweet read.

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