Palestinians accuse UAE of ‘normalising’ Israel after Etihad Airways flies to Tel Aviv

The Palestinian government has refused medical aid from the UAE after it was controversially transported by air to Israel.

The UN-facilitated flight carrying coronavirus supplies was delivered by an Etihad Airways plane that flew to Tel Aviv last week, in a move that contradicts the boycott of Israel by most Muslim nations.

Several Israeli media outlets reported that the flight took place in coordination with Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the UN’s World Food Programme.

Etihad, the state-owned, long-haul carrier based in Abu Dhabi, also confirmed it sent a flight to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.

“Etihad Airways operated a dedicated humanitarian cargo flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv […] to provide medical supplies to the Palestinians,” the airline told The Associated Press. “The flight had no passengers on board.”

The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency later issued a statement saying it delivered 14 tons of protective gear, medical items and ventilators “to curb the spread of [the] COVID-19 pandemic and its impact in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

But Palestinian government sources said: “The UAE authorities did not coordinate with the State of Palestine before sending the aid,” adding that “Palestinians refuse to be a bridge [for Arab countries] seeking to have normalised ties with Israel.”

They asserted that any assistance meant to be sent to the Palestinian people should be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority first.

The UAE and other Gulf Arab states do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. However, due to shared concerns over Iran’s influence in the region, countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are increasingly normalising relations.

Last year, Israel’s then foreign minister Israel Katz visited Abu Dhabi, where he discussed the “Iranian threat” with Emirati officials, his office said at the time. In 2018, Miri Regev, who was serving as Israel’s sports minister, also flew to the Emirati capital, notably going on a public tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Israel was also due to participate in the World Expo 2020 in Dubai, which was postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

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