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UAE, Bahrain and Israel formalise ties at White House

By AFP - Sep 15,2020 - Last updated at Sep 15,2020

WASHINGTON — Israel normalised relations with long-time foes Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates at a White House ceremony on Tuesday as President Donald Trump said similar US-brokered deals were close between Israel and "five or six" other nations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE sealed the historic agreements with a signing ceremony on a flag-decorated White House lawn.

Hundreds of guests attended the event despite the coronavirus pandemic but there were no ceremonial handshakes to cement the agreements.

Bahrain and the UAE are the first Arab nations to establish relations with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994 and Trump, who is hoping the deals will boost his reelection hopes, hailed it as a "historic day for peace in the Middle East".

"After decades of division and conflict we mark the dawn of a new Middle East," Trump said. "We're here this afternoon to change the course of history."

He said the agreements "will serve as the foundation for a comprehensive peace across the entire region" and "there will be other countries, very, very soon".

Speaking to reporters before the ceremony, Trump said "we'll have at least five or six countries coming along very quickly".

Trump did not name the additional countries, but hinted during a meeting with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan that Saudi Arabia may be on board. 

"We've had great talks with Saudi Arabia. I think their mind is very open," Trump said.

Netanyahu called the day a "pivot of history".

"It heralds a new dawn of peace," he said. "Ultimately it can end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all."

In remarks directed at Netanyahu, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan said: "I stand here today to extend a hand of peace and receive a hand of peace." 

"Thank you for choosing peace and halting the annexation of Palestinian territories," he said in one of the rare references to the Palestinians during the event.

In his remarks, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani stressed the need for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

Ahead of the signing ceremony, hundreds of Palestinians protested Tuesday against the normalisation deals with Israel.

Clutching Palestinian flags and wearing blue face masks for protection against the novel coronavirus, demonstrators rallied in the cities of Nablus and Hebron in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

Several dozen pro-Palestinian demonstrators also staged a protest outside the White House as the ceremony took place.

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