MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) – Bahraini officials made an unprecedented visit to Israel to collect five Bahrainis detained trying to enter the Gaza Strip to deliver aid, local media reported Saturday.
The Bahrain News Agency said the delegation was sent Friday by the interior and foreign ministries to collect the five Bahrainis from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.
Israeli officials detained the five on Tuesday on a boat bound for Gaza from Cyprus that was trying to break the Israeli blockade on the territory.
Friday’s trip marked the first visit by a delegation from Bahrain to Israel. Bahrain has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject an Israeli foreign ministry official confirmed that the Bahraini officials did land, but said they did not pass through Israeli border controls and so technically did not enter the country. He said Israeli officials went out to the plane on the tarmac with the forms necessary for the prisoners’ release then escorted the five to the aircraft. He said it should not be taken as a breakthrough in relations.
“We were looking for a solution to an unexpected problem,” the official said.
The predominantly Shiite Gulf state does have a very small Jewish population, one of which, Huda Noono, is the country’s current ambassador to the United States and Canada.
Bahrain’s foreign minister created a stir when he said in an interview last year that Middle East nations should form a regional organization that includes Israel and Iran to try to resolve their disputes.
It was a rare call for Arab countries to create a broad grouping alongside Israel and Iran. Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab nations that have peace deals with Israel. Other Arab nations have said they won’t establish ties with Israel until it signs peace deals with the Palestinians and Syria.
In 2005 the Bahrain government agreed to close down its office tasked with making sure the country complies with the Arab League- boycott of Israeli goods, as demanded by the free trade agreement with the United States.
The news agency reported that the detainees “were received by the (Bahraini) mission from the Israeli authorities and are safe and in good health.”
One of those released, Khalid al Shino, told The Associated Press Saturday, that the five flew from Tel Aviv to Amman, Jordan and then Bahrain.
“We will do it again because we have a goal to help our brothers in Gaza,” he said. “We hope that our return to Bahrain is not a way to say that we have relations with the enemy, which we reject strongly.”