UAE-Israel phone lines open after accord to normalise ties


  • World
  • Sunday, 16 Aug 2020

DUBAI/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The UAE and Israeli foreign ministers held their first publicly-acknowledged call on Sunday after the Gulf state opened telephone lines to Israel as part of a normalisation of ties.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday announced their U.S.-sponsored rapprochement, which promised a boom in bilateral trade but angered Palestinians and anti-Israel powers, such as Iran.

The foreign ministers of both countries spoke by phone to inaugurate the newly-opened lines. Israel's Gabi Ashkenazi said he and his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed agreed during the call "to meet soon".

Israel's Communications Ministry said UAE telecoms providers on Saturday unblocked calls to numbers with Israel's +972 country code.

Reuters made several calls from the UAE to Israel on Sunday and Israeli news websites that previously were blocked in the UAE could also be seen using UAE internet connections.

"I congratulate the United Arab Emirates on the unblocking," Israeli Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel said on Twitter.

"Many economic opportunities will now open up, and these trust-building steps are important for advancing the countries' interests."

The UAE's Telecoms Regulatory Authority did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did the UAE's two main telecoms operators Du and Etisalat.

The UAE-Israel agreement says Israeli and UAE delegations will meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements covering sectors including investment, tourism and direct flights and the opening of reciprocal embassies.

On Saturday, the first business deal was signed since the accord. Emirati APEX National Investment company and Israel's Tera Group will cooperate on research and development related to COVID-19, including a testing device.

The UAE foreign ministry in a statement to Reuters said the country expects an agreement on reciprocal visas, saying more details will be announced in due course.

Currently Israelis wishing to visit the UAE, and Emiratis wanting to visit Israel, can get special visas assessed on a case-by-case basis by the inviting government, spokespeople for the UAE Foreign Ministry and Israel's Interior Ministry said.

Numerous Israeli citizens and officials have visited the UAE for sporting events and international conferences. Israel's culture and sports minister in October 2018 came to watch Israelis compete in an international judo tournament in Abu Dhabi.

Israel is a confirmed participant at the Expo 2020 Dubai world fair, which has been postponed to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington in Dubai and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Susan Fenton, David Goodman and Barbara Lewis)

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