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Israel foreign minister makes historic visit to Bahrain


Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is in Bahrain for the first official visit by an Israeli cabinet member to the Gulf kingdom since the countries established diplomatic ties last year.

Mr. Lapid will inaugurate the new Israeli embassy and sign a number of agreements.

After he landed, the first commercial flight from Manama to Tel Aviv took off.

Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Sudan normalised relations with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords, which were mediated by the United States.

Until then, only two Arab countries had signed peace treaties with Israel: Egypt and Jordan.

“We’ve landed in Bahrain. I’m proud to represent Israel in an official and historic first in the kingdom. Thanks for the warm reception,” Mr Lapid tweeted on Thursday morning.

He was scheduled to meet with Bahraini officials before opening the Israeli embassy in Manama and signing a number of memorandums of understanding, including collaboration agreements between hospitals and water and power companies.

“We see Bahrain as an important partner, both bilaterally and as a bridge to cooperation with other countries in the region,” said an Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson.

Although Mr Lapid was greeted warmly by officials, AFP reported that opponents of the Abraham Accords burned tyres on the outskirts of Manama, sending clouds of black smoke into the air.

“The visit of the Israeli FM to Bahrain is an act that the people of Bahrain firmly reject, condemn, and denounce,” said Sheikh Hussein al-Daih, deputy secretary-general of the banned Shia Muslim opposition movement Al-Wefaq.

Last year, Al-Wefaq called the Abraham Accords a “betrayal of Islam and Arabism” because they violated a long-standing commitment not to normalise relations with Israel until there was progress toward the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

The Palestinian president also called the agreements a “stab in the back.”

Mr. Lapid has also travelled to the United Arab Emirates and Morocco since becoming foreign minister in the coalition government formed by Naftali Bennett in June.

He has not, however, visited Sudan, with which Israel’s relations have yet to improve.

On Sunday, his Sudanese counterpart Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi told The National: “There’s not any sign of normalisation with Israel… and there are no talks at any official level.”

Earlier this month, at an event commemorating the first anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised to “keep normalisation marching forward.”

“We want to broaden the circle of peaceful diplomacy because it is in the interests of countries all over the world for Israel to be treated like any other country,” he said.

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