PA rejects Israel's plan for Palestinians to fly from Negev desert, demand reopening of Jerusalem airport
The Palestinian Authority (PA) rejected on Thursday Israel's conditional offer to allow Palestinians to fly abroad through Ramon airport, situated in the Negev (Naqab) desert.
Musa Rahal, the spokesperson for the Palestinian ministry of transport, communications, and civil aviation, rebuffed Israel's plan in a statement, calling it a "unilateral act" that is "[rejected] by the ministry".
The ministry also demanded the reopening of Jerusalem airport, also known as Qalandia airport, which was closed by Israel to civilian traffic in 2000, amid the breakout of the Second Intifada.
The airport came under Israeli occupation in 1967 following its invasion of the West Bank and was then annexed by Israel in 1970, where it was used mostly for domestic flights to Tel Aviv.
"This is a clear position of President Mahmoud Abbas; that Palestinians still have the occupied Qalandia and Lod airports, which must be handed over to the State of Palestine according to international agreements, in order to work on the travel of Palestinian citizens through [them], especially since they are located in 1967 borders," added Rahal.
Rahal also pointed out that Israel is still refusing to hand over Qalandia Airport, and condemned its continued illegal settlement expansion around the facility's land.
These settlements are considered illegal under international law and have drawn condemnations from human rights organisations.
The PA demands Israel hand over this airport, in order to rebuild and operate it again, he added.
The spokesperson also expressed that "there is no opportunity available to restore and operate [Gaza's] Yasser Arafat International Airport", as the Israeli occupation has "completely destroyed it".
On Wednesday, the Israeli state broadcaster Kan said that Israel was considering permitting Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to fly overseas via the Negev's Ramon airport.
The move, which is backed by Israeli Defence Minster Benny Gantz, was deemed as a "gesture" towards Palestinians as part of US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel.
Israel is reportedly demanding the Palestinians drop legal action against them, over human rights abuses, in return for this arrangement.
Palestinians wishing to travel abroad have to travel via Israeli-run border crossings to Jordan.
Palestinians condemned Biden's visit to the region, for choosing to focus on economic rather than humanitarian issues, in light of the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the forced displacement of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta.