The government has denied reports in the media that a private Israeli jet carrying tourists to Shangri-la Villigilli Resort landed in Addu City this week.
President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza dismissed the claim today as “completely false.”
“The government’s stand is that [the claim] is a lie,” he asserted, suggesting that the rumours originated from staff at the airport.
Two officials at the Addu International Airport Company Ltd (AIACL) told Minivan News that the private jet departed yesterday after spending four days at Gan International Airport.
An airport official told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that the Gulfstream Aerospace G200 flight (4X-CLL) arrived on Sunday with tourists from the Jewish state, and had been parked at the Gan Airport for four days prior to its departure in the morning yesterday.
Banning Israeli flights to the Maldives was among five demands made at a ‘mega-protest’ on December 23, organised by a coalition of eight parties and religious NGOs to ‘Defend Islam’ against the allegedly liberal policies of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration.
Following the change of government on February 7, the ruling coalition-dominated parliament passed a resolution on April 25 preventing Israeli national airline El Al from operating scheduled flights to the Maldives.
El Al had applied to the Ministry of Civil Aviation in May 2011 requesting permission to fly to the country starting in December 2011, prompting the religious conservative Adhaalath Party to warn of a potential terrorist attack “due to the commencement of Zionist Israel’s flight operations to Maldives.”
Adhaalath severed its coalition agreement with the then-ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in September, soon after the Transport Ministry granted a licence to El Al to begin operations to Maldives.
Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla and Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed were not responding at time of press.
“First Israeli flight”
Speaking to Minivan News, an operations officer at Gan International Airport explained that a large number of private jets routinely fly to Addu City with “rich tourists.” The official stressed that authorisation for the flight to land in the Maldives would have been granted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Officials from the department were unavailable for comment at the time of press.
Community news site Addu Online meanwhile reported that according to an AIACL official, the private jet arrived on Sunday from Israel after transiting in another country.
The community website claimed that jet was operating under a license granted to the Israeli Amateur Radio Club. According to Addu Online, the private jet was the first flight from Israel to land at the Gan airport.
Speaking to Minivan News in April last year, former Transport Minister Adhil Saleem defended the MDP government’s decision to authorise Israeli flights, arguing that it would create opportunities for both Israeli tourists to visit the country as well as facilitate pilgrimages for Maldivians to the al-Aqsa mosques in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam.
“Some Maldivians see Israel as controversial over the issue of Palestine. Yet Palestine accepts Israel as a state, benchmarking the point that I don’t see why we should not allow these flights.”
Saleem said that the Maldives already played host to a number of Israeli tourists at its resorts and that authorising Israeli airlines would allow for a greater influx of guests to the country’s tourism industry.