JERUSALEM: Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank will be offered special flights from Ramon Airport, near the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, to destinations in Turkey, Israel’s Airports Authority said on Tuesday.
The move is Israel’s latest gesture to Palestinians, following pressure from the United States to ease travel for Palestinians as prospects for reviving long-stalled peace talks and establishing an independent Palestinian state appeared dim.
“We welcome efforts to facilitate travel for the Palestinian people,” a US Embassy spokesperson told Reuters.
But representatives of Palestinians, whose movement is routinely restricted by Israel, said they were not a party to the decision.
“Nobody consulted with us on this matter,” said Wasel Abu Yousef, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization. “What we seek is the return of Al-Quds International Airport to operate as the State of Palestine’s airport.”
Palestinians from areas Israel occupied in a 1967 war cannot fly from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport without special permission. They typically travel to Jordan to catch international flights, a trip that entails crossing through checkpoints and can take hours.
Under the pilot program, the flights will run twice a week starting at the end of August to Istanbul and Antalya on Turkish carriers Atlas and Pegasus and using Airbus A321 aircraft, the airports authority said.
These flights will not be offered to Palestinians from Gaza.
Ramon Airport, which opened in 2019, is about 300 km (185 miles) from Jerusalem and designed to take any planes re-routed from Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv.
Foreign carriers such as Ryanair, Wizzair and Lufthansa began to fly non-stop to older Eilat airports in 2015 during winter months after Israel offered airlines 60 euros ($61) per passenger brought on direct flights from abroad.
But the COVID-19 pandemic largely halted those flights.
The airports authority said that for the first time, summer flights to various destinations in Europe from Eilat would start in the coming days. They include Batumi, Georgia and Larnaca, Cyprus on Israeli carrier Arkia, and Warsaw and Katowice on Poland’s Enter Air.
Pegasus in October will fly Israelis to Turkey with four flights a week, the authority said.