TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Palestinians from the occupied West Bank will soon be allowed to travel on flights to Turkey out of an Israeli airport, the Israel Airports Authority said Tuesday.
The move is part of a series of gestures Israel says it is making to improve the living conditions of Palestinians in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Critics say the measures do not address the daily humiliations of the decades-long occupation or pave the road for Palestinian statehood.
The airports authority said in a statement that beginning in late August there will be twice-weekly flights from the southern city of Eilat’s Ramon airport to Antalya, Turkey, for Palestinians. Flights to Istanbul would begin in September.
There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security matters.
Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza do not have their own airport and must apply for a hard-to-obtain airport permit to use Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport. Such permits are only approved, if at all, shortly before takeoff.
Those in the West Bank wishing to fly abroad must travel to Jordan’s capital Amman an hour away, 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 ahead of their flight. There are also travel costs and crossing fees that make the journey an added financial burden.
Gaza 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.
An Israeli security official said Palestinians would board shuttles from the West Bank, undergo a security screening at an Israeli crossing and then go through the Ramon airport like any other traveler. The official said the initial phase is a pilot project but could be expanded to additional locations if it is successful.
The official, who was not authorized to discuss the project with the media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the first travelers would leave from the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Aug. 22. There are no immediate plans to allow Palestinians from Gaza to use the airport.
Ramon airport, which is about 300 kilometers (185 miles) from Bethlehem, is Israel’s secondary airport, after Ben-Gurion International Airport. It is smaller, has fewer flights and destinations and is less busy. It lies next to the resort city of Eilat.
Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war, and withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza two years before the Hamas takeover. The Palestinians want both territories to be part of their future state. There have been no serious peace talks in more than a decade.