Palestinians fly to Cyprus from Israeli airport in test program
Several dozen Palestinians flew to Cyprus on Monday from an airport in southern Israel as part of a test program to allow Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to fly abroad.
The move was part of a series of gestures that Israel says it is making to improve living conditions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But critics say the measures do not address the daily humiliations of the decades-long occupation or pave the road for Palestinian statehood.
Forty-three residents of the West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah and Nablus took off from Ramon Airport for Larnaca, Cyprus, said Amir Assi, a strategic consultant who coordinated the flights.
COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for governing civil affairs in the West Bank, confirmed that Palestinians boarded an international flight from Ramon Airport for the first time and that “staff work is still underway” to facilitate regular flights for Palestinians.
The recently opened Ramon Airport is near Israel’s resort city of Eilat, about 140 miles south of Jerusalem. It is smaller than Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv, has fewer flights and destinations and is less busy.
Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip do not have their own airport and must apply for a hard-to-obtain airport permit to use Ben Gurion airport. Such permits are approved, if at all, only shortly before takeoff.
Israel is moving ahead with plans to build a massive Jewish settlement on the site of a long-abandoned airport that Palestinians hoped to revive in a future capital.
Those in the West Bank wishing to fly abroad must travel to Jordan’s capital of Amman through a crowded Israeli border crossing. The crossing isn’t open 24 hours a day, forcing many travelers to pay to stay in a hotel nearby ahead of their flight. There are also travel costs and crossing fees that make the journey an added financial burden.
The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since the militant Hamas group seized power in 2007, and all movement in and out of the territory is heavily restricted.
The airport authority said earlier this month that there would be twice-weekly flights for Palestinians from Ramon to Antalya, Turkey, later in August and that flights to Istanbul would begin in September.
Israel captured the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast War, and the Palestinians seek them for a future state. There have not been substantive peace talks in more than a decade.
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