Historic first flight from Israel to UAE lands in Abu Dhabi

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner was among US officials to travel from Tel Aviv on first commercial flight from Israel to UAE

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Israeli and American officials travelled to Abu Dhabi on Monday on board the first commercial flight from Israel to the UAE.

It was a further step in establishing relations between the UAE and Israel since they sealed a peace accord on August 13.

El Al Flight 971, which was listed on the Israeli airline's website as a typical commercial flight, took off from Tel Aviv with the word "peace" in Arabic, Hebrew and English above the cockpit window.

The plane landed at 3.40pm at Abu Dhabi International Airport and taxied to a red-carpet welcome.

The El Al flight landed at the VIP terminal where US flags flew alongside the Star of David.

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a key architect of Washington's Middle East policy, hailed the historic flight.

Mr Kushner praised Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, for his leadership and courage.

Sheikh Mohamed was "truly leading the new Middle East", Mr Kushner said.

"The very few who have been critical of this peace agreement are the ones with a long track record of failure," he said.

The Israeli delegation, which included economists, scientists and planners, underpins the importance Israel places on co-operation with the UAE, one of the few Arab countries with a GDP larger than Israel's.

Israeli officials will meet those from the UAE “in preparation for the signing of co-operation agreements in the civil and economic fields”, Israel said.

Mr Kushner and US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien accompanied the Israeli delegation, led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat.

The flight was numbered after the UAE's international dialling code, and the return flight, set to leave Abu Dhabi on Tuesday morning, is El Al 972, which is Israel's code.

"I've been waiting for this moment since I joined the foreign ministry 20 years ago. The sky is the limit," Lior Haiat, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, told The National.

Mr Haiat said the accord would not only affect the governments but "each and every citizen in Israel and the Emirates". A ceremony to inaugurate the accord could take place in Washington in a matter of weeks, he said.

Before the flight, Israeli health authorities added the UAE to a list of countries from which Israelis can return without mandatory 14-day coronavirus quarantine.

The arrival of the delegation follows the announcement of the Abraham Accord, a US-mediated deal under which Israel agreed to halt annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories in exchange for normalisation of ties with the UAE.

Israel and the UAE have moved quickly to cement their ties over the past two weeks.

Almost immediately, they opened direct phone lines and Cabinet ministers held friendly phone conversations.

On Saturday, the UAE ended its formal commercial boycott of Israel.

UAE Minister of State for Food Security, Mariam Al Mheiri, and Israel's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alon Schuster, held an online meeting last Friday, Wam reported.

The two spoke about the opportunities for the UAE and Israel as a result of the peace accord.

Ms Al Mheiri and Mr Schuster agreed to collaborate in food and water security, which are of great concern for the UAE and Israel.

They also agreed to discuss co-operation in research and development, aquaculture and agriculture technology.

Their ministries said they would open a direct channel and work together on a programme of co-operation for the future.

The Trump administration is pressing ahead with ambitious plans to promote Arab-Israeli rapprochement.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the agreement with the UAE would bring unbridled trade and opportunities.