Palestinians use Eilat airport to fly with Israelis to Cyprus, Turkey flights paused

Arkia Airlines flew 40 residents on Hebron and Bethlehem, alongside Israeli passengers, to Larnaca, Cyprus


A group of 40 Palestinians flew alongside Israeli passengers to Cyprus on Monday, using Ramon Airport near Eilat as part of a series of pilot scheme by the Israeli government

The trial policy, first announced earlier this month, allows Palestinians to fly to Cyprus without having to travel to Amman, the Jordanian capital, which often involves many hours of uncomfortable cross-border travel.

The inaugural flight departed at 11:30am local time from Ramon Airport to Larnaca, Cyprus, operated by Arkia Airlines, with the return scheduled later this week. 40 Palestinians from Bethlehem and Hebron were on board, seated alongside Israeli passengers.

Currently, Palestinians travelling abroad need to go overland to Jordan from the West Bank, where the Allenby Bridge border crossing is often extremely slow and crowded.

Some Palestinians are able to secure an entry permit into Israel to fly from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, but they are very hard to come by, although Palestinian officials and their families fly from there.

Oz Berlowitz, CEO of Arkia, said in a statement: “Until today, flights for Palestinians in a unique framework, and in particular from Ramon Airport, were just a dream. And indeed the dream has been fulfilled.”

Arkia says that it has also received inquiries from residents of the Gaza Strip. However, they cannot use the flights as Israel and Egypt maintain a strict blockade to prevent the ruling Hamas terror group from importing weapons.

Palestinian passengers will undergo a security check when leaving the West Bank, as well as the normal airport security checks.

However, a plan for flights to operate from Ramon Airport to Turkey was scrapped on Sunday, the day before the first flight.

The Israel Airports Authority (IAA) said in a statement that it would make an announcement when a new date for the plan to start was decided, and gave no details on why it was paused.

There have been questions about how feasible the plan was, given that Ramon Airport is nearly a three-hour drive from the West Bank at its closest point. 

In the initial announcement in early August, the IAA said that Turkish airlines Pegasus and AtlasGlobal would launch twice-weekly flights from Ramon airport for Palestinians to fly to Antalya and Ankara, reportedly scheduled to start from today (22 August). 

Palestinian officials had spoken out against the plan, saying that it had not been coordinated with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and bypasses undermines the Palestinians’ right to a sovereign airport. 

Yasser Arafat international airport opened in 1998 to serve the Gaza Strip, however it closed after just two years as a result of the Second Intifada in 2000. 

A Palestinian official told the Jerusalem Post: “Israel failed to turn Ramon airport into an international terminal. Now, the Israelis are offering us something that didn’t work for them. This reminds me of the coronavirus vaccines, which Israel offered us because the expiration dates were nearing.” 

Comments in Palestinian media attributed to a PA official suggested that those using Ramon airport would be fined or otherwise punished, The Guardian reported. 

Residents of Eilat were also reportedly unhappy with the plan, with deputy mayor Matan Beeri saying that it poses a “security threat”, adding: “We won’t let this happen.” 

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