Jerusalem: Dozens of Palestinians departed for Cyprus from southern Israel’s Ramon Airport after Israel launched a pilot programme to enable Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to fly overseas.
“Palestinians were aboard an international flight from Ramon airport to Larnaca for the first time,” the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, confirmed in a statement on Monday.
“Staff work is still underway” to allow more flights by Palestinians through Ramon airport, COGAT said.
The Hebrew-language Ynet news site reported that buses organised by Israeli authorities brought about 40 Palestinian passengers from the West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus and Jericho to the airport. They boarded an Arika Israeli Airlines flight.
Arkia CEO Oz Berlovich told Ynet that the group included mostly physicians, pharmacists and their spouses, who flew to Larnaca for a medical conference and vacation, Xinhua news agency reported.
Earlier in August, the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) announced that from August 22, the Ramon airport would allow Palestinian passengers from the occupied West Bank to fly to the Turkish cities of Istanbul and Antalya through flights operated by Turkish carriers.
The Palestinian Authority has publicly rejected the plan, saying the move has not been coordinated with the Palestinians and bypasses the Palestinians’ right to an independent airport, Jerusalem Post daily reported.
Ramon airport is located in the Negev desert, near the resort city of Eilat, nearly 300-km south of Jerusalem. The only outbound route for Palestinians in the West Bank was through Jordan.
Ramon Airport was opened in January 2019, with the first international flight landing there two months later. It has been struggling with a decrease in passengers due to the Covid-19 pandemic.