JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A group of Palestinian passengers flew to Cyprus from an Israeli airport on Monday, but the flight was not organised under a promised arrangement easing travel restrictions for residents of the occupied West Bank, an airports authority spokesperson said.
Israeli authorities agreed earlier this month, following pressure from the United States, to ease some of the strict travel restrictions which prevent Palestinians from using Israeli airports – including Ben Gurion, Israel’s main international hub – without special permission.
Israel’s Airports Authority said on Aug. 9 it would allow special flights from Ramon Airport, near the Red Sea resort of Eilat, to take Palestinian passengers to some destinations in Turkey.
The programme had been due to start this month but was delayed for unspecified reasons by the airport authority, according to a statement on Sunday.
The change came amid continuing tensions on the West Bank where Israeli troops have conducted near daily operations against suspected militant groups and clashed repeatedly with Palestinian protesters.
An airports authority spokesperson said the Palestinian passengers departing from Ramon Airport for Cyprus on Monday were not part of the programme but were leaving under a separate arrangement.
“It’s a regular scheduled flight. I’m not checking who the passengers are on a scheduled flight,” the spokesperson said, referring any further questions to the carrier, Arkia Israeli Airlines.
Amir Assi, a strategic consultant to Arkia, described it as a “private” initiative coordinated with the relevant Palestinian and Israeli authorities.
The travellers – from the cities of Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus and Jericho – gathered at Meitar checkpoint in the southern part of the West Bank and were taken directly to the airport, he said.
Assi said he has previously organised similar trips for Palestinian passport holders out of Ben Gurion Airport.
Palestinians from areas Israel occupied in a 1967 war cannot fly from Ben Gurion, near Tel Aviv, without special permission. They typically travel to Jordan to catch international flights, a trip that entails crossing checkpoints and can take hours.
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.
(Reporting by Henriette Chacar and Nuha Sharaf; Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by James Mackenzie and Catherine Evans)