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Lapid, on UAE trip, opens first Israeli embassy in Gulf

By AFP - Jun 30,2021 - Last updated at Jun 30,2021

ABU DHABI — Israel's top diplomat Yair Lapid opened Tel Aviv's first embassy in the Gulf during a trip to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday after ties were normalised last year.

Israeli ministers have previously visited the UAE, but newly appointed Lapid is the most senior Israeli to make the trip, and the first to travel on an official mission.

"Israel wants peace with its neighbours. With all its neighbours. We aren't going anywhere. The Middle East is our home. We're here to stay. We call on all the countries of the region to recognise that. And to come talk to us," Lapid said during the opening ceremony.

Since their US-brokered normalisation agreement was announced in August last year, Israel and the UAE have signed a raft of deals ranging from tourism to aviation and financial services.

During his visit, Lapid will also inaugurate a consulate in Dubai.

Lapid's trip comes nearly a year after the nations moved to normalise ties, and follows a string of visits by Israeli officials that were planned then scrapped over issues including the COVID pandemic and diplomatic scuffles.

Benjamin Netanyahu, replaced as prime minister by Jewish nationalist Naftali Bennett in a coalition government cobbled together by Lapid weeks ago, had already postponed a February visit to the UAE and Bahrain over coronavirus travel restrictions.

The normalisation accords Israel struck with the UAE, followed by deals with Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan also last year, have been condemned by the Palestinians.

They break with years of Arab League policy of no relations with Israel until it makes peace with the Palestinians.

Lapid is a centrist former television presenter who tenaciously hammered together Israel’s new coalition, ending Netanyahu’s more than decade-long tenure as prime minister.

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