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, after the US mounted pressure on it to ease travel for Palestinians amid dimming prospects for reviving long-stalled peace talks and establishing an independent Palestinian state.
“We welcome efforts to facilitate travel for the Palestinian people,” a US Embassy representative told Reuters.
But representatives of Palestinians, whose movement is routinely restricted by Israel, said they were not a party to the decision.
“Nobody consulted … us on this matter,” said Wasel Abu Yousef, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. “What we seek is the return of Al Quds International Airport to operate as the State of Palestine's airport.”
Palestinians from areas that Israel occupied in the 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 can take hours and entails crossing through checkpoints.
Under the pilot programme, the flights will run twice a week from the end of August, flying Palestinians to Istanbul and Antalya on Turkish airlines Atlas and Pegasus, the airport authority said.
The flights, on Airbus A321 aircraft, will not be offered to Palestinians from Gaza.
Ramon Airport, which opened in 2019, is about 300 kilometres from Jerusalem and is designed to take any planes rerouted from Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv.
Foreign airlines such as Ryanair, Wizzair and Lufthansa began to fly non-stop to older Eilat airports in 2015, during the winter months, after Israel offered them a subsidy of $61 per passenger on direct flights from abroad.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic largely halted those flights.
For the first time, summer flights to various destinations in Europe from Eilat will start in the coming days, the airport authority said.
They include flights to Batumi, in Georgia, and Larnaca, in Cyprus, on Israeli airline Arkia, as well as flights to Warsaw and Katowice on Poland's Enter Air.
Pegasus will fly Israelis to Turkey from October, with four flights a week, the authority said.