United Arab Emirates flag-carrier Etihad Airways said Tuesday it is flying aid for the Palestinians amid the coronavirus pandemic into Israel, marking the first known direct commercial flight between the nations.
The flight comes as the United Arab Emirates, home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the Arabian Peninsula, has no formal diplomatic ties to Israel.
However, it marks an open moment of cooperation between the countries after years of rumored back-channel discussions between them over the mutual enmity of Iran.
Etihad, a state-owned, long-haul carrier, confirmed it had a flight Tuesday to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport.
“Etihad Airways operated a dedicated humanitarian cargo flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv on 19 May to provide medical supplies to the Palestinians,” the airline said. “The flight had no passengers on board.”
The UN coordinated a 14-tonne shipment of "urgent medical supplies" from the UAE to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in the Palestinian territories, according to a statement from the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.
"The aid includes personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical equipment. Most notably, it includes 10 ventilators that are acutely needed," the statement added.
It was not immediately clear whether the 14 tonnes of aid were transported on the Tuesday Etihad cargo flight. Etihad was not mentioned in the UNSCO statement.
Emirati government officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Israel Airports Authority confirmed the cargo flight would be landing at Ben-Gurion on Tuesday evening. An official at Ben-Gurion said the flight was to arrive at 9 p.m.
An Israeli official said the flight would be delivering humanitarian aid provided by the UAE to the Palestinians through the World Food Program, and that the cargo flight was coordinated with the Israeli government. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.
Palestinian Authority officials in the West Bank had no immediate comment. Health officials in the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Iran-backed Hamas terror group, said they had no knowledge of any aid shipment for Gaza from Abu Dhabi.
The extent of Gulf Arab ties with Israel is still mostly kept private, though. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have allegedly used Israeli spyware to go after government critics.
Oman, which has ties with Iran, hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a surprise visit in 2018 that served to remind Washington of its unique ability to be a conduit for talks.
But such ties remain highly contentious among the Arab public, particularly as the Palestinians remain without a state of their own despite decades of talks.
Israel and the PA imposed sweeping lockdowns in mid-March aimed at containing the virus, limiting travel and public gatherings, and forcing nonessential businesses to close. Many of the restrictions have been lifted in recent weeks as the rate of new infections has declined.
Israel has reported more than 16,600 cases and around 270 deaths, with more than 13,000 of the patients having recovered. The Palestinian Authority has reported around 390 cases and two fatalities, with around 340 people having recovered.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, will reopen next week after the conclusion of a major holiday marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. It follows weeks of closure aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. It had been closed since March over the virus.