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First direct commercial flight from Israel lands in Bahrain

Israir Airlines Airbus A320 landed at Bahrain International Airport.

The first known direct commercial flight between Israel and Bahrain landed Wednesday in the island kingdom, just a week after it signed a deal alongside the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations.

Flight data showed an Israir Airlines Airbus A320 landed at Bahrain International Airport after a nearly three-hour flight from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport.

There was no immediate acknowledgement of the flight from the Israeli government, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday spoke by telephone to Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Also read: The Hindu Explains: Why has UAE signed a peace deal with Israel?

Bahrain’s state-run media did not immediately acknowledge the flight. Officials on the island off the coast of Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The US Embassy in Manama similarly did not respond to a request for comment.

The flight was made without ceremony, in sharp contrast to the first El Al flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates at the end of August.

That plane carried US and Israeli officials, including President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as media.

The flight Wednesday comes as Israel has gone back into a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.

In Bahrain, civil society groups have criticised the move to normalize relations with Israel, saying that recognition should come only after Palestinians obtain their own independent state.

Also read: The Hindu Explains | Why has the Israel-UAE pact unsettled Palestine and Iran?

Bahrain, home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and a British naval base, has a predominantly Shiite population ruled by a Sunni royal family. Arab Spring protests there in 2011 ended with authorities cracking down with the help of Saudi and Emirati forces.

Bahrain and the UAE signed normalization agreements September 15 with Israel at the White House, part of a US diplomatic push as Trump seeks re-election.

The UAE and Israel have moved quickly to explore commercial ties after their normalization deal.

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa previously had been quoted as saying he believed Arab countries should drop their boycott of Israel.

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