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JERUSALEM: Israel and Turkey on Thursday signed a new bilateral civil aviation agreement, their first since 1951, as part of a recent warming of diplomatic ties, allowing Israeli carriers to resume flights to Turkey after a 15-year absence.

“The agreement is expected to result in the resumption of flights by Israeli companies to a variety of destinations in Turkey, alongside flights by Turkish companies to Israel,” Israel’s Transportation Ministry said in a statement.

It said that the deal stemmed from “constructive negotiations in recent weeks and constitutes an important milestone in advancing bilateral relations.”

Earlier this week, Israel said it would reopen its economic and trade office in Turkey after both governments expelled ambassadors in 2018 while often trading barbs over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel and Turkey are now looking to restore representation to ambassador level.

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Israeli carriers have not flown commercially to Turkey since 2007, while Turkish carriers flew as much as 16 flights a day to Israel pre-COVID.

Flag carrier El Al Israel Airlines had long complained to government officials that this was discriminatory towards Israeli airlines.

“This is very good news,” said an El Al spokesperson. “We have an intention to fly to commercial flights to Istanbul.”

He added that El Al unit Sun D’or will likely fly to leisure destinations popular with Israelis such as Antalya.

Lower fare airlines such as Turkish Airways have cut into El Al’s business, with most passengers using Istanbul as a hub to connect to North America and Europe.

Turkish Airways is the third largest airline operating in Israel, with a 7% market share at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv over the first half of 2022, according to the Israel Airports Authority. El Al’s share has slipped to 22% from 29% a year ago.

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Turkey’s Pegasus is 6th with a 4% market share.

A spokesperson for smaller Israeli carrier Israir said there was no news yet on flights to Turkey. Rival Arkia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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