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UAE delivers coronavirus aid for Palestinians in first direct flight to Israel

The two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations despite their de facto alliance against Iran
Israel was due to participate in the now-postponed World Expo 2020 in Dubai (AFP/File photo)

In the first openly known direct flight between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, an Etihad cargo plane flew from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv late on Tuesday to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Several Israeli media outlets reported that the flight was in coordination with Israel's foreign ministry and the UN's World Food Programme. 

The two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations despite their de facto alliance against Iran. 

Last year, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz visited Abu Dhabi where he discussed the "Iranian threat" with Emirati officials, his office said at the time. And in 2018, Miri Regev, who was serving as Israel's sports minister, also flew to the UAE capital where she went on a public tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

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

"Expos are global gatherings where people from around the world come together to celebrate ingenuity and apply it to shared challenges. We are excited to be a part of that common endeavour," an Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement in April of last year.

The flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv comes as Israel plans to annex large parts of the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank.

The UAE has condemned the possible move as "illegal", but cooperation appears to be growing between the two countries. Israeli media reported in April that the Emirati government offered to evacuate Israeli citizens stuck in Morocco because of the pandemic.

The spread of the coronavirus has raised fears that Palestinians may not have the resources to cope with a major outbreak in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which have had close to 400 confirmed cases and two related deaths.

"Here's a way to ease in normalization of UAE with Israel - coronawash it with 'aid' to Palestinians," human rights activist Sarah Leah Whitson wrote on Twitter.