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Phone lines opened between Israel, UAE

Steps taken in deal to establish ties by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | August 17, 2020 at 7:12 a.m.
Women walk past flags for the United Arab Emirates and Israel on Sunday at the Peace Bridge in Netanya, Israel. The UAE flag was displayed to celebrate last week’s announcement on the countries’ diplomatic relations.
(AP/Ariel Schalit)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Telephone service between the United Arab Emirates and Israel began working Sunday as the two countries opened diplomatic ties, part of a deal brokered by the U.S. that required Israel to halt its plan to annex West Bank land sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

Emirati officials acknowledged that Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan had called his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi.

Israeli Communications Minister Yoaz Handel issued a statement "congratulating the United Arab Emirates on removing the blocks."

"Many economic opportunities will open now, and these trust-building steps are an important step toward advancing states' interests," Handel said.

Also on Sunday, Israeli news websites that had previously been blocked by UAE authorities, like the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post and YNet, could be accessed without using means to bypass internet filtering in the UAE.

Associated Press journalists in Jerusalem and Dubai were able to call each other from both landline and cellular phones registered to Israel's country code, +972.

Until Sunday in the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, a recorded message in Arabic and English would typically play to note that calls to +972 numbers could not be connected. The advent of internet calling allowed people to get around the ban, although those calls, too, were often interrupted.

Some in Israel used Palestinian mobile phones with +970 numbers, which those in the UAE could call.

The connection of phone service represents the first concrete sign of the deal between the Emiratis and Israelis.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced Thursday that they were establishing full diplomatic relations in the U.S.-brokered accord.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the deal proves that Israel doesn't need to retreat from occupied land to achieve peace and normalization with Arab states.

The UAE, like most countries in the Arab world, long rejected official diplomatic ties with Israel, saying recognition should only come in return for concessions in peace talks. Its accord with Israel breaks that long-held tenet and could usher in agreements with other Arab states, undermining an Arab consensus that was a rare source of leverage for the Palestinians.

"According to the Palestinians, and to many others in the world who agreed with them, peace can't be reached without conceding to the Palestinians' demands, including uprooting settlements, dividing Jerusalem and withdrawal to 1967 lines," Netanyahu said in a video statement. "No more. This concept of 'peace through withdrawal and weakness' has passed from the world."

The Palestinians want the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for their hoped-for state, and peacemaking efforts since the 1990s have been based on withdrawal from those lands to make way for a Palestinian homeland. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Mideast war, although it withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005.

Last week's deal delivered a key foreign policy victory to President Donald Trump and reflected a changing Middle East in which shared concerns about archenemy Iran have largely overtaken traditional Arab support for the Palestinians.

The Palestinians bristled at Netanyahu's remarks.

"Peace should be established on the basis of the Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital. This is the Arab and international consensus, and anything else has no value," said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Netanyahu also reiterated Sunday his interpretation of the UAE deal: that annexation was only being suspended and that it was still on the table, so long as it was done in coordination with Washington. UAE officials have indicated that the deal means annexation has been shelved entirely.


The agreement will make the UAE the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan, to have full, active diplomatic ties with Israel. The UAE and Israel announced the agreement in a joint statement, saying deals between the two countries were expected in the coming weeks in such areas as tourism, direct flights and embassies.

Early Sunday, the Emirates' state-run WAM news agency announced a UAE company had signed an agreement with an Israeli company for research and study of the coronavirus pandemic.

In other steps toward normalizing relations, Israir Airlines Ltd. has started the process of applying for a landing permit in the UAE, Chief Executive Officer Uri Sirkis said Sunday.

In addition, a popular Israeli singer said he's in negotiations to appear in the UAE. Several months ago, Omer Adam sent UAE leaders a video greeting thanking them for supporting the small Jewish community in the emirates, his spokesman said.

In Pakistan, hundreds of Islamists rallied Sunday to denounce the Emirati-Israeli deal. The Jamaat-e-Islami party chanted slogans against the United States and burned effigies of Trump. They also set ablaze American and Israeli flags.

The deal also has enraged Iran and Turkey, regional rivals to the UAE.

On Sunday, the chief of staff of Iran's armed forces called the UAE's decision a "disaster." Mohammad Hossein Bagheri urged Abu Dhabi to "revise" its position.

"If an incident happens in the Persian Gulf and violates the national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran, even a tiny bit, and we see it from the UAE, we will not tolerate it," Bagheri said.

On Sunday, the UAE summoned the Iranian charges d'affaires in Abu Dhabi over President Hassan Rouhani's reaction to the deal, which it deemed "inflammatory." The UAE's official letter said Iran's response had serious implications for the region's stability, according to a tweet by Hend Al Otaiba, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' director of strategic communications.

Rouhani had condemned the deal as a "mistake" on Saturday and warned the UAE not to let Israel into the region.

The agreement reverberated through Middle Eastern stock markets, which advanced on the first day of trading since the announcement. Israel's TA-35 gained as much as 2%, while the main indexes in Dubai and Abu Dhabi rose 1.3% and 0.6%, respectively. Peers in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar were also up.

The Times of Israel reported Saturday that the chief of Israel's Mossad spy agency spoke by phone recently with Bahrain's prime minister, and a reporter for Israel's Arabic-language news service tweeted that the two may meet soon to pave the way to signing a peace agreement. The Israeli prime minister's office declined to comment on a possible meeting, and Bahrain denied such a phone call took place.

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Separately, Israel closed the Gaza Strip's offshore fishing zone Sunday after a night of cross-border fighting with Palestinian militants, the most intense escalation of hostilities in recent months.

Palestinian militants in Gaza fired two rockets into southern Israel after Israeli airstrikes targeted sites belonging to the territory's militant Hamas rulers.

The military said the Iron Dome aerial defense system intercepted the two rockets that militants in Gaza launched at southern Israel. But police said rocket fallout caused damage to a house in the town of Sderot, and paramedics treated a 58-year-old man for minor wounds from the exploding glass.

The Israeli army said the strikes were a response to explosive balloons launched by a Hamas-affiliated group over the border, as well as attempts by Palestinian protesters to throw explosives at the Israel-Gaza perimeter fence and soldiers stationed along it.

Dozens of Palestinians took part in the protests. The military said the protesters "burned tires, hurled explosive devices and grenades towards the security fence and attempted to approach it."

Gaza's Health Ministry said Israeli gunfire at protesters wounded two Palestinians.

Israel holds Hamas, the Islamist militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, responsible for all attacks emanating from the Palestinian territory.

After a meeting Sunday with the top army brass, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement that Israel "will respond forcefully to any violation of sovereignty until complete quiet is restored in the south. If Sderot isn't quiet, Gaza won't be either."

Information for this article was contributed by Jon Gambrell, Tia Goldenberg, Ilan Ben Zion, Nasser Karimi and Asim Tanveer of The Associated Press; and by Gwen Ackerman and Layan Odeh of Bloomberg News.


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