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In first since 2007, Israeli airlines resume flights to Turkey

February 16, 2023

By Daniel Salami, Roy Rubinstein

For the first time in 16 years, an Israeli airline flight departed for Turkey on Thursday morning.

An Israir Airbus commercial airliner carrying 165 passengers onboard took off from Ben Gurion Airport at exactly 11:35 am, bound for Istanbul.

Direct flights between the two countries were suspended in late 2007 after relations became strained.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev attended the ceremony that preceded the flight and expressed condolences on behalf of the Israeli government for the devastating earthquakes that hit Turkey last week, claiming over 30,000 lives in the country so far. The Israeli flight also carried medical supplies for survivors.

In her speech, Regev welcomed the first direct Tel Aviv-Istanbul flight by an Israeli airline in 16 years, saying she believes these flights will bolster tourism to both countries.

"Renewing these flights has been made possible thanks to the Abraham Accords led by Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, as now many destinations like Dubai and Morocco have opened up to us," she said.

"We're receiving requests from transportation ministers from various African and Middle Eastern countries to open direct flights with us."

Turkish Ambassador to Israel Sakir Ozkan Torunlar thanked the Israeli government for the search-and-rescue expedition sent to Turkey immediately following the earthquakes.

"Turkish and Israeli citizens have known each other for many years. Both countries will continue to operate, and we're happy to see commercial flights resuming their operations," he said.

For the time being, Israir is the only Israeli airline operating the route to Istanbul, but other Israeli airlines, such as Arkia and El Al, are primed to follow suit, landing in places like Antalya, a Turkish resort city popular with Israelis.

The restart of flights was made possible following rigorous negotiations between the two countries which culminated in the signing of an agreement last July by then-transportation minister Merav Michaeli. The gridlock was finally broken after the parties reached an agreement on security arrangements.

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