Israeli airline secretly flying UN peacemakers around the world
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Last update - 03:52 06/01/2009
By Zohar Blumenkrantz, Haaretz Correspondent
While the United Nations works feverishly towards a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, Israeli airline Arkia has been discreetly flying special flights around the world for UN troops as part of an international tender it won in 2008, Haaretz has learned.
Last month, on the eve of the Gaza operation, Arkia flew 125 UN peacekeepers from Nigeria to and from their assignment in Haiti in a Boeing 757-300 aircraft, refueling en route in Entebbe, Uganda and the island nation of Cape Verde.
The flight took off from Ben-Gurion International Airport without passengers on December 18, loaded the peacekeepers in Nigeria and left for Haiti.
There it dropped the fresh peacekeepers off and received a new load of returning troops for the flight back to Nigeria.
Within 48 hours, the plane was back in Israel.
Haaretz has learned this is not the first time Arkia has served UN troops, but has done so dozens of times in the past, including the transport of peacekeepers from Poland to and from service monitoring Israel's borders.
Arkia, owned by the Nakash brothers, significantly expanded its operations in the past year.
Israel Airports Authority figures indicate the airline flew over 400,000 passengers last year on international flights from Ben-Gurion, 22 percent more than it had the previous year.
Arkia is currently second in passenger volume among Israeli airlines after El Al, ahead of that company's subsidiary Sun d'Or and rival charter Israir.
"The company does not usually comment on its commercial activity," Arkia representatives said.