Israel sent a plane with medical staff and equipment to Sudan in an attempt to save the life of a diplomat sick with COVID-19, who managed the clandestine ties between Jerusalem and Khartoum, Channel 13 reported Wednesday.
But 24 hours after their arrival, Najwa Gadaheldam passed away, just days after contracting the virus.
The plane landed in Khartoum on Tuesday carrying a senior official involved in ties with Sudan, medical staff and equipment, after hearing of her illness, according to the television report. The visiting team planned to transport Gadaheldam to Israel for treatment, but arrived too late, when she was already in critical condition.
The two countries are formally at war, and the story would likely have remained under wraps had the plane not been flagged on flight-tracking websites due to its unusual route.
NEW MIDDLE EAST: Flight from Israel lands in Sudan. Sudan once had a long, brutal, Islamist dictatorship. Change is coming. pic.twitter.com/NPscjhiJp3
— David Reaboi (@davereaboi) May 26, 2020
During Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ministers that he had spoken on the phone with Sudan’s leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to send holiday wishes ahead of Eid al-Fitr that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Channel 13 speculated that Gadaheldam’s condition likely came up during the call as well.
Serving as al-Burhan’s political adviser Gadaheldam had been a key figure behind burgeoning clandestine relations between Khartoum and Jerusalem which climaxed in February with meeting between the Sudanese leader and Netanyahu and in Uganda, Channel 13 said.
Netanyahu touted his meeting with al-Burhan as a major foreign relations accomplishment ahead the March election.
Israel and Sudan are “discussing rapid normalization,” Netanyahu said at the time.
However, Sudan’s cabinet later said al-Burhan had made no promise to Israel’s prime minister of “normalizing ties” between the two countries and called the meeting a personal initiative.
Soon after the meeting, Israeli flights were allowed to use Sudanese airspace.
Sudan, a longtime member of the Arab League, has joined other member states in rejecting the Trump administration’s Mideast plan that Palestinians have said is heavily biased toward Israel. But to rebuild Sudan’s economy, the new administration in Khartoum is also seeking an end to American sanctions as a US-listed state sponsor of terror.
Israel remains technically at war with Sudan, which supported hardline Islamists — including, for a period, al-Qaeda — during the rule of ousted leader Omar al-Bashir.
Al-Bashir was overthrown in a 2019 military coup amid pro-democracy protests. Burhan heads the transitional council ruling the country now.
Netanyahu’s meeting with Burhan was kept secret until after the fact due to sensitivities of the Sudanese leader meeting with the prime minister of Israel.