US officials in Mideast to reassure jittery allies over Iran

US officials in Mideast to reassure jittery allies over Iran

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Senator Chris Coons of Delaware talks to the journalists during a press briefing in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Monday, May 3, 2021. Top Biden administration officials and U.S. senators crisscrossed the Middle East on Monday, seeking to assuage growing … more >

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By ISABEL DEBRE

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Top Biden administration officials and U.S. senators crisscrossed the Middle East on Monday, seeking to assuage growing unease among Gulf Arab partners over America’s re-engagement with Iran and other policy shifts in the region.

The trips come as the U.S. and Iran, through intermediaries in Vienna, discuss a return to Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that former President Donald Trump abandoned three years ago. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies, excluded from Obama-era nuclear negotiations, have repeatedly pressed for a seat at the table, insisting that any return to the accord must address Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for regional proxies.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a key Biden ally dispatched on overseas diplomatic missions, told reporters in the UAE’s capital of Abu Dhabi that he hoped to allay the sheikhdom’s “understandable and legitimate concerns” about the return to the landmark deal and to create “broader engagement” with Gulf partners.

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Coons said “close consultation” with the UAE about the ongoing talks in Vienna was “important, expected and happening,” adding that he hopes the Emiratis “may not just be notified, but actually help.”

What that means remains unclear, as Gulf states now watch with resignation as negotiations gain traction in the Austrian capital. When asked to elaborate, Coons balked at the suggestion that the UAE’s input had acquired any greater significance in talks with Iran over the last five years.

“I did not in any way mean to suggest that there was some deal in the works where the Emiratis would be securing anything,” he said. “Vienna is the place where the United States government, the administration, is negotiating.”

Regional tensions are rising. To pressure the Biden administration to lift sanctions and come back into compliance with the deal, Iran has steadily violated the accord’s limitations on nuclear enrichment and stockpiles of enriched uranium. The long shadow war between Israel and Iran has intensified, with suspected Israeli attacks on Iranian ships in volatile Mideast waterways and at Iran‘s Natanz nuclear facility.

In a tour intended to boost “long-standing political, economic, cultural, and security ties,” several senior Biden administration officials are touring Arab capitals, with Brett McGurk from the National Security Council and Derek Chollet from the State Department, among others, stopping in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Amman and Cairo this week.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. joined the flurry of diplomatic activity in the region this week, jetting to Oman, Qatar and Jordan for talks on a political solution to the war in Yemen. In an interview with The Associated Press from Amman, Murphy credited the influence of the Biden administration on recent steps in the region to defuse tensions, such as a Saudi cease-fire initiative floated to the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and secret talks between archenemies Iran and Saudi Arabia. Earlier this year, Biden announced the end of U.S. support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

However, Murphy warned, “so long as we’re still sanctioning the hell out of the Iranian economy … it’s going to be hard to push the Houthis to a cease-fire.”

Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers “is very important, perhaps critical to peace in Yemen,” he added, and without it, “the Iranians are going to see Yemen as an opportunity to make mischief against the United States and our allies.”

The visits follow the Biden administration’s decision to plow ahead with Trump-era arms sales to Gulf countries, including a $23 billion transfer of F-35 combat aircraft, Reaper drones and other advanced weapons to the UAE, despite objections from Democrats wary of states’ entanglement in the devastating war in Yemen, authoritarian policies and ties to China.

Coons, chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, helped introduce legislation last year designed to block the sale of fighters to the UAE. He said Monday that he discussed those concerns with Emirati officials during his two-day visit.

“In a number of robust conversations with senior (Emirati) leaders, I’ve been reassured I think appropriately,” Coons said, without elaborating. “But I need to return to Washington to hear from our administration … exactly how this is being resolved and addressed.”

The senator also has become known for his sharp criticism of Saudi Arabia‘s human rights record and tactics in Yemen, where U.S.-backed Saudi coalition airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians. The Trump administration, which cultivated close ties to the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, approved a nuclear cooperation deal to share technology with the kingdom for its nuclear power venture, including plans to build several civilian reactors.

The cooperation has sparked concerns among some U.S. senators skeptical of Saudi Arabia‘s intentions.

Although Coons declined to share what he knew of the kingdom’s nuclear technology plans, he said the disastrous war in Yemen has “left us with concerns about our ability to trust the Saudis with technology that they acquire from us.”

He added: “Iran is not the only concerning player.”

UAE minister: US sanctions on Syria challenge rapprochement

UAE minister: US sanctions on Syria challenge rapprochement

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FILE – In this June 9, 2019 file photo, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan listens during a news conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Al Nahyan said Tuesday, March 9, 2021, that U.S. … more >

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By ISABEL DEBRE

Associated Press

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Sweeping U.S. sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad undermine regional rapprochement efforts that could help settle the Syrian conflict, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates said on Tuesday.

In a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart in Abu Dhabi, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan pushed for “joint action with Syria,” saying that the American economic pressure campaign “as it is today makes the matter difficult.”

He further pushed for the reinstatement of war-torn Syria in the 22-member Arab League and noted the government and private sector “could play a role” in returning Syria “to normal” after years of ruinous war.

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Sheikh Abdullah’s remarks underscore shifting regional dynamics as the 10-year anniversary of Syria’s civil war looms next week. The United Arab Emirates had supported the Syrian opposition during the early years of the war.

But as the Syrian army recaptured most of the territory from the opposition, the UAE and other Arab countries made openings toward Assad’s government. In 2018, the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus, for the first time since the start of an organized Arab diplomatic boycott in 2011.

Syria near-complete isolation has increased since the Trump administration in 2019 enacted legislation known as the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act. The sanctions, which U.S. officials said aimed to hold “accountable the Assad regime for atrocities it has committed against its own people,” target Assad, his close circle of associates and family, senior security officials and troops as well as the Central Bank and any institutions believed to have played a role in the violence in the war in Syria.

While Assad may have won the military war against his opponents with the help of backers Russia and Iran, he faces an even bigger challenge of governing while more than 80% of his people live in poverty.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did not elaborate on the Syrian conflict at the press conference beyond saying that Russia “supports a political settlement” there, as well as in war-scarred Libya and Yemen.

In Libya, the UAE and Russia provided military aid to east-based Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter as his forces battled the U.N.-recognized government for control of the country’s capital last year.

China spacecraft enters Mars orbit, 2nd in 2 days after UAE

China spacecraft enters Mars orbit, 2nd in 2 days after UAE

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This image made available by the China National Space Administration on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020 shows the Tianwen-1 probe en route to Mars. China’s duo _ called Tianwen-1, or “Quest for Heavenly Truth” _ will remain paired in orbit until … more >

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By Sam McNeil

Associated Press

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

BEIJING (AP) — China says its Tianwen-1 spacecraft has entered orbit around Mars on a mission to land a rover and collect data on underground water and possible signs of ancient life.

The arrival of the orbiter-rover combo in orbit on Wednesday evening Beijing time makes it the second spacecraft in two days to reach the red planet. An orbiter from the United Arab Emirates led the way on Tuesday.

Next week, the U.S. will try to land its Perseverance rover on the Martian surface. Only the U.S. has successfully touched down on Mars – eight times beginning with two Viking missions. A lander and rover are in operation today.

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All three Mars missions launched last July.

The Chinese mission is its most ambitious yet. If all goes as planned, the rover would separate from the spacecraft in a few months and attempt to touch down.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

BEIJING — A Chinese spacecraft appears poised to enter orbit around Mars, one day after an orbiter from the United Arab Emirates did so and about a week ahead of an American attempt to put down another spacecraft on the surface of the red planet.

Chinese authorities, always cautious about possible failure, have not announced a planned arrival time. The official Xinhua News Agency reported last week that the spacecraft was expected to slow down around Wednesday before entering orbit and preparing for a Mars landing.

The challenging attempt to touch down on Mars isn’t expected for about three months. If all goes as planned, China would become only the second nation to do so successfully.

Named Tianwen-1, the Chinese orbiter-rover combo needs to fire its engines to slow enough to be captured by Mars’ gravity after a 470-million kilometer (290-million mile) journey that took more than six months. It would circle and map Mars until the rover separates and attempts to land in May to look for water underground and signs of ancient life.

Its name, the title of an ancient poem, means “Quest for Heavenly Truth.”

Landing a spacecraft on Martian soil is notoriously difficult, and China’s attempt will involve a parachute, back-firing rockets and airbags. Its proposed landing site is inside the massive, rock-strewn, Utopia Planitia, where the U.S. Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976.

The solar-powered rover – about the size of a golf cart – is expected to operate for about three months, and the orbiter for two years.

Only the U.S. has successfully touched down on Mars – eight times beginning with the two Viking missions. A lander and rover are in operation today.

A U.S. rover called Perseverance is aiming for a Feb. 18 touchdown on Mars to also search for signs of ancient microscopic life and to collect rocks for return to Earth in the next decade.

The latest three Mars missions were all launched in July to take advantage of the planet’s close alignment with Earth that occurs only every two years. The UAE’s orbiter called Amal, Arabic for Hope, began circling the red planet on Tuesday to gather detailed data on Mars’ atmosphere.

Six others were already operating around Mars: three U.S., two European and one Indian.

Plenty didn’t make it. Smashed Russian and European spacecraft litter the Martian landscape along with a failed U.S. lander. About a dozen orbiters missed the mark.

Tianwen-1 is China’s second attempt to send a spacecraft to Mars. In 2011, a Chinese orbiter that was part of a Russian mission didn’t make it out of Earth’s orbit.

China’s secretive, military-linked space program has progressed considerably since then. In December, its Chang’e 5 mission was the first to bring lunar rocks to Earth since the 1970s. China was also the first country to land a spacecraft on the little-explored far side of the moon in 2019.

UAE drastically cut funding for Palestinian refugees in 2020

UAE drastically cut funding for Palestinian refugees in 2020

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FILE – In this March 31, 2020 file photo, Palestinian workers load food supplies distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) at the Sheikh Redwan neighborhood of Gaza City. The United Arab Emirates drastically reduced its funding … more >

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By

Associated Press

Friday, February 5, 2021

JERUSALEM (AP) – The United Arab Emirates drastically reduced its funding to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees in 2020, the year it signed a U.S.-brokered normalization accord with Israel that was heavily criticized by the Palestinian Authority.

The agency known as UNRWA provides education, health care and other vital services to some 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, mainly descendants of the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were driven out of Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation.

The UAE donated $51.8 million to UNRWA in 2018 and again in 2019, but in 2020 it gave the agency just $1 million, agency spokesman Sami Mshasha said Friday, after it was first reported by Israeli media.

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“We really are hoping that in 2021 they will go back to the levels of the previous years,” he said.

Emirati officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Saturday.

Last year the UAE normalized relations with Israel, breaking with a longstanding Arab consensus that recognition should only come in exchange for concessions in the peace process with the Palestinians, which has been moribund for more than a decade.

Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco struck similar agreements shortly thereafter, in what the Trump administration touted as a historic diplomatic achievement. President Joe Biden welcomed the accords and has said he will encourage the resumption of direct peace talks.

The Palestinian Authority, however, viewed the agreements as a betrayal and harshly criticized the UAE. That may have prompted the federation of oil-rich sheikhdoms, which includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi, to slash aid.

Critics of UNRWA say it perpetuates the refugee problem created by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the Palestinians’ demand of a “right of return” for the refugees and their descendants. Israel adamantly rejects the idea of a right of return, which if fully implemented would leave the country with a Palestinian majority.

The Trump administration cut off all funding to UNRWA in 2018, one of several unprecedented steps it took to support Israel and isolate the Palestinians. The U.S. had previously given the agency around $360 million a year.

The Biden administration announced last month that it would restore aid to the Palestinians, including to refugees, and says it will work to revive peace negotiations. The two sides have not held substantive peace talks since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assumed office in 2009.

Dubai blamed for virus cases abroad; questions swirl at home

Dubai blamed for virus cases abroad; questions swirl at home

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In this April 15, 2020, file photo, a motorcycle delivery man rides past a billboard urging people to stay home over the coronavirus pandemic in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell, File) more >

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By Jon Gambrell

Associated Press

Friday, January 29, 2021

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — After opening itself to New Year’s revelers, Dubai is now being blamed by several countries for spreading the coronavirus abroad, even as questions swirl about the city-state’s ability to handle reported record spikes in virus cases.

The government’s Dubai Media Office says the sheikhdom is doing all it can to handle the pandemic, though it has repeatedly declined to answer questions from The Associated Press about its hospital capacity.

“After a year of managing the pandemic, we can confidently say the current situation is under control and we have our plans to surge any capacity in the health care system should a need rise,” it said.

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However, Nasser al-Shaikh, Dubai‘s former finance chief, offered a different assessment Thursday on Twitter and asked authorities to take control of a spiraling caseload.

“The leadership bases its decisions on recommendations from the team, the wrong recommendations which put human souls in danger and negatively affect our society,” he wrote, adding that “our economy requires accountability.”

Dubai, known for its long-haul carrier Emirates, the world’s tallest building and its beaches and bars, in July became one of the first travel destinations to describe itself as open for business. The move staunched the bleeding of its crucial tourism and real estate sectors after lockdowns and curfews cratered its economy.

As tourism restarted, daily reported coronavirus case numbers slowly grew but mostly remained stable through the fall.

But then came New Year’s Eve – a major draw for travelers from countries otherwise shut down over the virus who partied without face masks in bars and on yachts. For the last 17 days, the United Arab Emirates as a whole has reported record daily coronavirus case numbers as lines at Dubai testing facilities grow.

In Israel, more than 900 travelers returning from Dubai have been infected with the coronavirus, according to the military, which conducts contact tracing. The returnees created a chain of infections numbering more than 4,000 people, the Israeli military told the AP.

Tens of thousands of Israelis had flocked to the UAE since the two countries normalized relations in September. Israeli Health Ministry expert Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis was quoted by Channel 13 TV as complaining in a call with other officials that a few weeks of travel had been more deadly than decades of no relations with the Arab nation.

Since late December, Israel has required those coming from the UAE to go into a two-week quarantine. Israel later shut down its main international airport through the end of the month over rising cases.

In the United Kingdom, tabloids have splashed shots of bikini-clad British influencers partying in Dubai while the country struggled through lockdowns trying to control the virus. Britain in mid-January closed a travel corridor to Dubai that had allowed travelers to skip quarantine over what was described as a significant acceleration in the number of imported cases from the UAE.

“International travel, right now, should not be happening unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC this week. “No parties in Paris or weekends in Dubai. That is not on and in most cases, it’s against the law.”

Meanwhile, mutated strains of the coronavirus have been linked back to Dubai. The U.K. instituted a travel ban Friday barring direct flights to the UAE over the spread of a South African variant of the coronavirus.

Denmark already discovered one traveler coming from Dubai who tested positive for the South African variant, the first such discovery there. Like Britain, Danish celebrities similarly traveled to Dubai for the New Year.

In the Philippines, health authorities say they discovered a British strain infecting a Filipino who made a business trip to Dubai on Dec. 27. He returned to the Philippines on Jan. 7 and tested positive.

He “had no exposure to a confirmed case prior to their departure to Dubai,” the Philippines Department of Health said. In the time since, Filipino authorities have discovered at least 16 other cases of the British variant, including two coming from Lebanon.

As daily reported coronavirus cases near 4,000, Dubai has fired the head of its government health agency without explanation. It stopped live entertainment at bars, halted nonessential surgeries, limited wedding sizes and ordered gyms to increase space between those working out. It also now requires coronavirus testing for all those flying into its airport.

The UAE had pinned its hopes on mass vaccinations, with Abu Dhabi distributing a Chinese vaccine by Sinopharm and Dubai offering Pfizer-BioNTech’s inoculation. The UAE says it has given 2.8 million doses so far, ranking it among the top countries in the world.

However, people including al-Shaikh now question Dubai‘s capacity to handle the increasing cases. Hospitals contacted by the AP largely referred questions back to Dubai’s government, which repeatedly declined to comment. Dubai’s Saudi German Hospital responded saying it was “hoping to read the real news,” without elaborating.

Dr. Santosh Kumar Sharma, the medical director of Dubai’s NMC Royal Hospital, told the AP “the number of cases (is) ever rising,” with over half its beds occupied by coronavirus patients.

The World Health Organization said that before the pandemic, the UAE had nearly 13,250 hospital beds for a country of over 9 million people. It said Dubai and the UAE‘s northern emirates built field hospitals amid the pandemic with some 5,000 beds, with Abu Dhabi building more.

But Dubai closed its 3,000-bed field hospital in July – the same day it reopened for tourism. Both Dubai and the UAE‘s Health Ministry now advertise for nurses on Instagram.

“The sad thing is that great efforts have been made since January 2020 for us to come and undermine them with our own hands,” al-Shaikh wrote. “What makes things worse is the lack of transparency.”

Yet that came after the UAE‘s autocratic government told those worried earlier this week to “refrain from questioning the efforts of all those who have worked to contain this pandemic.”

___

Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

Denmark suspends Dubai flights amid doubts over virus tests

Denmark suspends Dubai flights amid doubts over virus tests

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Tourists party on a yacht in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Since becoming one of the world’s first destinations to open up for tourism, Dubai has promoted itself as the ideal pandemic vacation spot. With peak tourism … more >

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By JAN M. OLSEN

Associated Press

Friday, January 22, 2021

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – Denmark has temporarily suspended all flights from the United Arab Emirates for five days after suspicion arose that the coronavirus tests that can be obtained before leaving Dubai are not reliable, authorities announced Friday.

The development, which comes amid a surge of infections in the UAE, poses a direct challenge to the mass testing regime that had been the pillar of the country’s coronavirus response and economic reopening. Dubai was one of the world’s first destinations to open up to tourists, welcoming visitors from anywhere with only a coronavirus test.

Danish Transport Minister Benny Engelbrecht said the decision was made to allow the matter to be thoroughly investigated and ensure that the testing are being carried out properly.

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“We can’t ignore such a suspicion,” Engelbrecht said, adding that the ban entered into force on Thursday night.

Danish authorities faced a “concrete and serious citizen inquiry into” how the tests are carried out at Dubai entry and exit points, he said, and “therefore we need to be absolutely sure that there are no problems.”

Engelbrecht said at least “one citizen” brought the South African variant of the virus “back from Dubai.” He did not identify further that person. Dubai has seen an increase in the number of South African residents as the country’s economy deteriorated in recent years.

Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet said Friday there has been a second report of allegedly sloppy virus testing in Dubai, and cited Engelbrecht as saying “the information seem precise and valid.”

Since Jan. 9, Denmark has required that all passengers arriving in the Scandinavian country have a negative coronavirus test or proof that they have recently had COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, to limit the spread of the virus.

In response to the move, UAE’s state-run WAM news agency carried a statement from a Foreign Ministry official stressing “that all accredited UAE testing centers are regularly subject to strict quality checks.”

Emirati authorities were currently communicating with their Danish counterparts to clarify the reasons behind suspicions surrounding the virus testing, the statement added, noting the government imposed tough penalties for violations of international testing standards.

On Jan. 8, Denmark’s Foreign Ministry advised against all travel abroad, including business travel. On Tuesday, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told local media that “there is a reason why we really ask everyone not to travel. It’s really important that everyone listens.”

“There is a risk of bringing (virus) mutations to Denmark,” she said. “It can undermine our epidemic control and thus infect others and what is worse.”

In recent days, several Danish celebrities, socialites and influencers – such as former boxer Mikkel Kessler, former football international Nicklas Bendtner and table tennis ace Michael Maze – have traveled to Dubai and posted photos of themselves on social media.

Lea Hvidt Kessler, the wife of the former super-middleweight world champion, wrote on Instagram that no one in their family that traveled to Dubai before Christmas was infected. According to media in Denmark, there are currently 85 Danish nationals there and about 800 permanent Danish residents in Dubai.

On Friday, as the UAE shattered its 11th consecutive daily infection record with 3,552 new cases, Dubai‘s state-run media office announced strict new limits on weddings, social events and private parties beginning next Wednesday, restricting all gatherings to 10 immediate family members. Wedding parties at hotels and other venues previously had been capped at 200.

The same day, Dubai ordered all gyms and restaurants to increase the physical space between trainees and diners. The city also put an immediate halt to all “entertainment activities” on boats and floating restaurants – a popular pastime in the city. Tourists and celebrities often flaunt their vacations on social media, posting photos of raucous, Champagne-soaked yacht parties that have splashed across tabloids in recent weeks. A day earlier, Dubai suspended all live bands and performances at nightclubs and bars in the city after hospitals were forced to pause non-urgent surgeries to deal with an influx of new COVID-19 patients.

Tourists have flocked to Dubai in recent weeks despite the raging pandemic, escaping lockdowns back home. The glimmering city-state, with an economy largely built on tourism, aviation and retail, has promoted itself as an ideal pandemic vacation spot. Aside from the ubiquitous masks and hand sanitizer dispensers, a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy prevails in the crowded bars, massive malls and luxury hotels.

Skyrocketing daily infections, which nearly tripled since November, failed to dent the normalcy even as more contagious variants of the coronavirus raced around the globe. The United Kingdom, which like Denmark sent droves of reality TV and sports stars to Dubai, closed its travel corridor with the UAE earlier this month.

Since the start of the pandemic, the UAE has built its coronavirus response on an “early detection strategy,” using Chinese-made coronavirus test kits to embark on one of the world’s best testing campaigns at a time when other countries were struggling to obtain and administer PCR tests. As of Friday, the country of roughly 9 million had conducted some 24.2 million coronavirus tests.

The U.S. State Department previously raised concerns that Chinese testing material was not accurate, without providing evidence about the allegation.

___

Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

Easing dispute, UAE announces reopening of borders to Qatar

Easing dispute, UAE announces reopening of borders to Qatar

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By ISABEL DEBRE

Associated Press

Friday, January 8, 2021

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The United Arab Emirates announced on Friday that it would reopen its borders and airspace to Qatar after boycotting the tiny energy-rich country alongside its Gulf allies since 2017.

The decision to restart commerce and travel would take effect on Saturday, Foreign Ministry official Khalid Abdullah Belhou was quoted as saying by the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency.

The move comes after Saudi Arabia declared a breakthrough in settling the yearslong rift with Qatar during the annual Gulf summit this week, saying the kingdom would restore diplomatic ties and that its allies would follow suit.

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Saudi Arabia announced the reopening of its airspace and borders with Qatar earlier this week. National carrier Qatar Airways said it had started to reroute some flights through Saudi airspace, with the first flight cruising over Saudi skies from Doha to Johannesburg, South Africa on Thursday night.

The president of the United Nations’ civil aviation arm, Salvatore Sciacchitano, welcomed the easing of Gulf airspace restrictions on Thursday, saying the resolution would “help assure the important socio-economic benefits of international air connectivity can be better optimized.”

The UAE indicated on Friday that its restoration of full diplomatic relations with Qatar would take longer. Belhou said the federation of seven sheikhdoms is continuing talks to “end all other outstanding issues.” Opposition to Qatar’s support for Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood runs deeper in the UAE than in Saudi Arabia, which is primarily concerned with Qatar’s close ties with regional foe Iran.

Bahrain and Egypt, which had joined the UAE and Saudi Arabia in isolating Doha, have yet to publicly elaborate on their pledges to ease the boycott signed this week in the ancient Saudi desert site of al-Ula.

The four Arab states severed commercial and diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017, accusing the country of cozying up to Iran and financing extremist groups in the region, charges that Doha denies.

This week’s breakthrough followed a final push by the outgoing Trump administration, which has been seeking to end the dispute that has troubled America’s foreign policy and defense strategy in the region and hampered U.S. attempts to further isolate Iran.

The boycott only pushed Qatar closer to Iran, for instance by forcing Qatar Airways to change routes through Iranian skies. Analysts estimate the move has given the Islamic Republic hundreds of millions of dollars in overflight fees.

The reopening of Saudi and Emirati airspace to Qatar is critical as the country prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which is expected to draw over 1 million foreign soccer fans.

UAE top diplomat acknowledges visa restrictions on Pakistan

UAE top diplomat acknowledges visa restrictions on Pakistan

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FILE – In this Monday, Oct. 5, 2015 file photo, a thick blanket of early morning fog partially shrouds the skyscrapers of the Marina and Jumeirah Lake Towers districts of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Travel agencies in countries across the … more >

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Associated Press

Monday, December 21, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The United Arab Emirates’ top diplomat has publicly acknowledged a so-far unexplained ban on visitors from Pakistan, which travel agents say also targets tourists and laborers from a dozen Muslim-majority countries amid the pandemic and the UAE’s normalization of ties with Israel.

Following a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan stressed “the temporary nature of recent restrictions imposed on the issuance of visas due to the outbreak of COVID-19,” the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency reported Sunday.

He did not elaborate on the visa suspension, which has blindsided expats seeking entry to the federation of seven sheikhdoms, where foreigners outnumber locals nearly nine to one.

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The reported visa restrictions targeting countries such as Lebanon, Kenya, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen came just as tourists began arriving in the Persian Gulf country on Israeli passports following the normalization agreement. The Emirati and Israeli governments are hammering out a mutual visa waiver agreement to grant Israeli tourists visas on arrival.

Saeed Mohammed, a travel agent at Arabian Nights Tours in Dubai, said Monday that the visa approval rate for families from Pakistan and a few other Mideast nations has increased over the past few weeks. But young, single men from the countries are denied entry, fueling speculation that the ban may be tied to security or visa overstay concerns.

Yemen’s president in exile reshuffles Cabinet to end rift

Yemen’s president in exile reshuffles Cabinet to end rift

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By BY AHMED AL-HAJ

Associated Press

Friday, December 18, 2020

SANAA, Yemen (AP) – Yemen’s embattled president, in exile in Saudi Arabia, announced a Cabinet reshuffle Friday in a major step toward closing a dangerous rift between his internationally recognized government and southern separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s decree said the incumbent prime minister, Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, would keep his job while 24 ministerial posts would have almost equal representation of both northerners and southerners, according to the country’s state-run SABA news agency.

The reshuffle included women, for the first time since the 1990s.

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Defense Minister Mohammed al-Maqdishi and Finance Minister Salem Saleh Bin Braik kept their jobs in the new government. Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, who was Yemen’s ambassador to the U.S., was named foreign minister, replacing Mohammed Abdullah al-Hadrami, who was critical of the UAE.

The U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, welcomed the reshuffle as “a pivotal step towards a lasting political resolution to the conflict in Yemen.”

Naming a new government was part of a power-sharing deal between the Saudi-backed Hadi and the Emirati-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council, an umbrella group of militias seeking to restore an independent southern Yemen, which existed from 1967 until unification in 1990.

The STC had been the on-the-ground allies of the UAE, once Saudi Arabia’s main partner in the war that subsequently withdrew from the conflict. The secessionist group declared self-rule over the key port city of Aden and other southern provinces in April, before it abandoned its aspirations for self-rule late in July to implement the peace agreement with Hadi’s government.

The power-sharing deal, inked in the Saudi capital of Riyadh last year, was meant to end months of infighting between what are nominal allies in Yemen’s civil war that pits a Saudi -backed coalition, of which the UAE is a part, against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The deal also called for the appointment of a new governor and security director for the port city of Aden, the seat of Hadi’s government since the Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa in 2014. The following year, the Saudi-led coalition, determined to restore Hadi’s government to power, launched a military intervention.

The power-sharing deal also included the withdrawal of rival forces from Aden and the flashpoint southern province of Abyan. The Saudi-led coalition said that was completed earlier this week.

Trump deal to sell F-35 fighters to UAE faces Capitol Hill gauntlet

Trump deal to sell F-35 fighters to UAE faces Capitol Hill resistance

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The Senate this week is expected to vote on whether to block a $23 billion weapons sale to the United Arab Emirates, including 50 cutting-edge F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets valued at over $10 billion. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) more >

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By Lauren Toms

The Washington Times

Sunday, December 6, 2020

President Trump‘s precedent-breaking Middle East foreign policy faces a key test as the Senate is expected to vote this week on whether to block a $23 billion weapons sale to the United Arab Emirates including 50 cutting-edge F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets valued at over $10 billion, 20 Reaper drones worth nearly $3 billion, and thousands of munitions.

The sale is part of a wider effort by the Trump administration to bolster relations with Gulf countries who are willing to normalize relations with Israel, and to created a broad front to contain Iranian aggression.

As part of the Abraham Accords brokered by Mr. Trump this year in September, the UAE agreed to normalize full, diplomatic relations with Israel, the first Arab state to do so in decades. As a reward for easing Israel‘s regional isolation, it also was announced the oil-rich Gulf Arab state would be eligible to purchase the cutting-edge U.S. military fighter and other arms — despite reservations from Israel and its supporters in Congress.

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Heidi Grant, head of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, told reporters Friday that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter deal with the UAE could be signed and sealed before Mr. Trump leaves office Jan. 20, assuming Congress does not object.

“Absolutely it’s possible,” Ms. Grant told reporters Friday, while adding it would require quick action by UAE officials once the deal was greenlighted.

But the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, blasted a recent classified briefing by the administration on the proposed sale Thursday, calling the closed-door meeting was “totally unsatisfying.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat and Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, are co-sponsoring several resolutions to block the sale that was approved by the State Department early last month.

“It’s ripe. It’s ready, it has privilege on the floor,” Mr. Menendez told reporters when asked about the timing of the resolutions seeing a vote. “We are gathering support for it.”

The resolutions require a simple majority to pass and would prevent the sale that the Trump administration is seeking to push through in his final weeks in office.

Mr. Paul last week pointed to the qualitative military boost the UAE would enjoy — potentially on par with Israel — if it obtained the advanced U.S.-made weapons. Israel has long sought to maintain a clear military superiority over its regional rivals, many of whom still refuse to recognize it.

“I think it’s a bad idea to give weapons that are our qualified military advantage over the rest of the world to countries who may or may not always be with us, that are autocracies or monarchies that don’t share our values,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill.

“I think it also leads to an arms race in the Middle East, which is a bad idea,” he added.

Mr. Murphy has also cited a potential looming arms race in the region in attempting to block what could be a historic sale to a Gulf nation.

“Fueling an arms race in the Middle East is just bad policy — Iran will respond with its own ramp-up, and every other Gulf nation will want similar weapons to keep up with the UAE,” he tweeted last week.

He also pointed to the UAE‘s long standing relationship with U.S. adversaries including China and Russia. He said in the recent classified briefing, “officials could not detail how our most sensitive technology — on the Reapers and our F-35 jets — will not find its way to Russia/China.”

The UAE‘s ambassador to the U.S., Yousef Al Otaiba, blasted Mr. Murphy’s assertions and said last week that the sale is “different.”

“The UAE F-35 package is much more [than] selling military hardware. It is about advancing a more stable and secure Middle East,” Amb. Al Otaiba said. “It enables the UAE to take on more of the regional burden for collective security, freeing U.S. assets for other global challenges — a bipartisan U.S. priority.”

The Senate debate comes as Israel and the UAE are deepening ties on a number of fronts, symbolized by the first direct commercial flights between the two countries.

In order to take full effect, the joint resolutions would still need to pass the House, and survive a likely presidential veto. The Democrat-led House has previously approved resolutions blocking arms sales during President Trump‘s tenure, most notably to Saudi Arabia in 2019.

Mr. Menendez hinted that it could be in the sale’s opponents’ best interest to wait until the incoming Biden administration.

“A new administration could decide that it might not be in the best interest of the national security of the United States,” he said. “No matter what happens, it’s not a done deal.”

Israel urges citizens to avoid Gulf, cites Iran threat

Israel urges citizens to avoid Gulf, cites Iran threat

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Israelis prepare to fly to Dubai at the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. The Israeli government is urging its citizens to avoid travel to the Gulf states of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, … more >

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By ILAN BEN ZION

Associated Press

Friday, December 4, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – The Israeli government on Thursday urged its citizens to avoid travel to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, citing threats of Iranian attacks.

Iran has been threatening to attack Israeli targets since its chief nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated last Friday near Tehran. It accuses Israel, which has been suspected in previous killings of Iranian nuclear scientists, of being behind the shooting.

Israel has not commented on the killing. But Fakhrizadeh has long been on Israel‘s radar screen, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying at a 2018 news conference about Iran‘s nuclear program: “Remember that name.” Israel accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons – a charge Iran denies.

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In recent months, Israel has signed agreements establishing diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab states of the UAE and Bahrain – its first normalization deals with Arab countries in a quarter century.

The agreements, brokered by the Trump administration, have generated widespread excitement in Israel, and thousands of Israeli tourists are scheduled to travel to the UAE for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah this month.

That may change following Thursday’s warning.

“In light of the threats heard recently by Iranian officials and in light of the involvement in the past of Iranian officials in terror attacks in various countries, there is a concern that Iran will try to act in this way against Israeli targets,” said a statement issued by the prime minister’s National Security Council.

It also advised against travel to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the Kurdish area of Iraq and Africa.

Israel‘s military is well prepared to deal with the threats of Iranian troops and their proxies in neighboring Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Israeli media say the government also has beefed up security at embassies around the world.

But protecting Israeli travelers, conspicuous and spread out at countless hotels, restaurants and tourist sites, represents a different type of challenge.

“This is going to be a nightmare, and I really hope that both governments, UAE and Israel, are coordinating and doing the best they can to safeguard those Israelis,” said Yoel Guzansky, a former Israeli counterterrorism official who is now a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

“I’m really worried that that something might happen, and especially now because of the context of Fakhrizadeh, because Iran is really looking for revenge,” he added. He spoke before the travel advisory was issued.

The Israel Airports Authority estimates that about 25,000 Israelis will fly to the UAE this month on the five airlines now plying the route between Tel Aviv and the Gulf state’s airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Celebrities, entrepreneurs and tourists already have been flocking to Dubai.

With the coronavirus appearing to be under control in the UAE, it is one of the few quarantine-free travel options for Israelis during the coming Hanukkah holiday vacation, adding to its appeal. At a time when few people are traveling, Israeli visitors speaking Hebrew could be extra conspicuous.

Israel this week also signed a tourism agreement with Bahrain.

Amsalem Tours, an Israeli travel agency, said that there was “very serious” demand for travel packages to Dubai but did not provide specific figures.

Iran and its proxies have targeted Israeli tourists and Jewish communities in the past. Agents of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group bombed a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, in 2012, killing six and wounding dozens. That year, Israel also accused Iran of being behind attacks targeting Israeli diplomats in Thailand and India. Iran and Hezbollah also bombed the Israeli Embassy and Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994, claiming the lives of scores of civilians.

Concerns for the safety of Israelis in Dubai also is not without precedent. In 2000, an Israeli ex-colonel was kidnapped by Iranian proxy Hezbollah and held captive in Lebanon until he was released in a prisoner exchange in 2004.

Today, Dubai, famous for its glittering shopping malls, ultra-modern skyscrapers and nightlife, is a crossroads for travelers from around the world, including many nations that do not have relations with Israel. Iran maintains a major presence in Dubai, due to historical and current trade ties, and Dubai is believed to be a major station for Iranian intelligence services. The family of a California-based member of an Iranian militant opposition group in exile says he was abducted by Iran while staying in Dubai just a few months ago.

In a possible sign of Emirati security concerns, travel agencies in countries across the Middle East and Africa say the UAE has temporarily halted issuing new visas to their citizens. With tens of thousands of Iranians working or doing business in the UAE, Iran is also among the countries facing the visa restrictions.

Israel had already had a travel warning in place advising citizens against nonessential travel to the UAE. Similar “basic concrete threat” advisories are in place for visiting other Arab states with which Israel has peace treaties. But the language of Thursday’s warning was especially tough.

The UAE, for its part, is known for its strict security. Dubai, home to 3.3 million people in 2019, with just over 3 million of them foreigners, has published major crime statistics that are among some of the lowest in the world.

Before Israelis began arriving, Dubai held a highly publicized drill of a police SWAT team storming a replica metro car in October and suggested facial-recognition technology could be implemented at stations along its driverless track. Experts already believe the UAE has one of the highest per capita concentrations of surveillance cameras in the world, a system that’s only grown amid the coronavirus pandemic.

And despite the recent tensions, Iran may be hesitant to strike on Emirati soil, wanting to maintain its economic interests there. The UAE meanwhile has gone out of its way to say it wants to de-escalate tensions in the region despite its own suspicions over Iranian behavior. It called the killing of Fakhrizadeh a “heinous assassination.”

In an interview before Thursday’s advisory was issued, Pavel Israelsky, co-founder of Salam Dubai, said the boom in his UAE-based Israeli tour operator’s bookings was “significant” ahead of the Hanukkah holiday. While a handful of Israeli clients canceled over security concerns, he said, “I can say that the UAE is one of the most secure places in the world in terms of the resources they invest in security.”

“I don’t think there’s cause for worry,” Israelsky said. “Today, no place is really safe.”

___

Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed reporting.

UAE national carrier to start flying to Tel Aviv next spring

UAE national carrier to start flying to Tel Aviv next spring

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FILE- In this Dec. 18, 2014, file photo, an Emirati man takes a selfie in front of a new Etihad Airways A380 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, announced Monday, … more >

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By ISABEL DEBRE

Associated Press

Monday, November 16, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, announced Monday it would start operating daily nonstop flights to Tel Aviv next spring, a move that deepens ties between the UAE and Israel after the two countries agreed to normalize relations.

Direct flights on Etihad between the emirates’ capital of Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv will begin March 28, giving “Emiratis and UAE residents the opportunity to discover Israel’s historical sites, beaches, restaurants and nightlife,” the state-owned carrier said in a statement. Tickets are already available on Etihad‘s website.

The announcement comes after Dubai’s budget carrier flydubai said it would begin offering direct flights between Dubai and Tel Aviv later this month.

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The UAE and Israel signed a U.S.-brokered accord establishing formal diplomatic ties on the White House lawn in September. The deal marked a diplomatic achievement for President Donald Trump ahead of his reelection campaign and reflects a changing Middle East, in which shared enmity of Iran has largely overtaken traditional Arab support for the Palestinians.

Soon after the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan agreed to formalize ties with Israel in similar agreements.

Bahrain’s foreign minister will lead the country’s first official trip to Israel on Wednesday, state-run Bahrain News Agency reported. The high-level diplomatic visit seeks “to affirm Bahrain’s firm and permanent stance toward supporting the Mideast peace process” and “to shed light on shared economic opportunities,” the agency said.

The U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a Mideast tour, would be in Israel during the coming days as well.

The normalization deal, rejected by Palestinians as a betrayal of their cause, has been welcomed among Israelis eager to visit the UAE’s skyscraper-studded cities and make public their long-secret commercial ties with the federation of seven sheikhdoms. In recent weeks, a series of Israeli delegations, including entrepreneurs, tourists and even Israeli settlers from the occupied West Bank, has flown to Dubai for meetings with Emirati businesspeople and officials.

The air route became commercially viable after Saudi Arabia decided to allow Israeli jets to traverse its skies, cutting the flight time between the countries to some three hours.

Mohammad al-Bulooki, chief operating officer of Etihad Aviation Group, praised the start of scheduled flights as a “historic moment” that opens up opportunities for “trade and tourism not just between the two countries but also within the region and beyond.”

Etihad said the start of regular service with Israel would turn Abu Dhabi into a crucial travel hub for Israelis traveling to China, India and Australia.

UAE announces relaxing of Islamic laws for personal freedoms

UAE announces relaxing of Islamic laws for personal freedoms

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In this April 6, 2020, file photo, a lone taxi cab drives over a highway in front of the Dubai skyline. The United Arab Emirates announced on Saturday a major overhaul of the country’s Islamic personal laws, allowing unmarried couples … more >

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By Isabel Debre

Associated Press

Saturday, November 7, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates announced on Saturday a major overhaul of the country’s Islamic personal laws, allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosening alcohol restrictions and criminalizing so-called “honor killings.”

The broadening of personal freedoms reflects the changing profile of a country that has sought to bill itself as a Westernized destination for tourists, fortune-seekers and businesses despite its Islamic legal code that has previously triggered court cases against foreigners and outrage in their home countries.

The reforms aim to boost the country’s economic and social standing and “consolidate the UAE’s principles of tolerance,” state-run WAM news agency reported, which offered only minimal details in the surprise weekend announcement. The government decrees behind the changes were outlined extensively in state-linked newspaper The National, which did not cite its source.

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The move follows a historic U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations between the UAE and Israel, which is expected to bring an influx of Israeli tourists and investment. It also comes as skyscraper-studded Dubai gets ready to host the World Expo. The high-stakes event, expected to bring a flurry of commercial activity and some 25 million visitors to the country, was initially scheduled for October but was pushed back a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The changes, which The National said would take immediate effect, also reflect the efforts of the Emirates’ rulers to keep pace with a rapidly changing society at home.

“I could not be happier for these new laws that are progressive and proactive,” said Emirati filmmaker Abdallah Al Kaabi, whose art has tackled taboo topics like homosexual love and gender identity.

“2020 has been a tough and transformative year for the UAE,” he added.

Changes include scrapping penalties for alcohol consumption, sales and possession for those 21 and over. Although liquor and beer is widely available in bars and clubs in the UAE’s luxuriant coastal cities, individuals previously needed a government-issued license to purchase, transport or have alcohol in their homes. The new rule would apparently allow Muslims who have been barred from obtaining licenses to drink alcoholic beverages freely.

Another amendment allows for “cohabitation of unmarried couples,” which has long been a crime in the UAE. Authorities, especially in the more freewheeling financial hub of Dubai, often looked the other way when it came to foreigners, but the threat of punishment still lingered. Attempted suicide, forbidden in Islamic law, would also be decriminalized, The National reported.

In a move to better “protect women’s rights,” the government said it also decided to get rid of laws defending “honor crimes,” a widely criticized tribal custom in which a male relative may evade prosecution for assaulting a woman seen as dishonoring a family. The punishment for a crime committed to eradicate a woman’s “shame,” for promiscuity or disobeying religious and cultural strictures, will now be the same for any other kind of assault.

In a country where expatriates outnumber citizens nearly nine to one, the amendments will permit foreigners to avoid Islamic Shariah courts on issues like marriage, divorce and inheritance.

The announcement said nothing of other behavior deemed insulting to local customs that has landed foreigners in jail in the past, such as acts of homosexuality, cross-dressing and public displays of affection.

Traditional Islamic values remain strong in the federation of seven desert sheikhdoms. Even so, Annelle Sheline, a Middle East research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, wrote on Twitter that the drastic changes “can happen without too much popular resistance because the population of citizens, especially in the main cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is so small.”

The roughly 1 million Emiratis in the UAE, a hereditarily ruled country long criticized for its suppression of dissent, closely toe the government line. Political parties and labor unions remain illegal.

House Chairman Eliot Engel proposes bill to restrict U.S. weapons sales to Middle East countries

House Chairman Engel proposes bill to restrict U.S. weapons sales to Middle East countries

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In this Aug. 5, 2019, file photo released by the U.S. Air Force, an F-35 fighter jet pilot and crew prepare for a mission at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates. (Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/U.S. Air Force via … more >

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By Lauren Toms

The Washington Times

Friday, October 30, 2020

Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on Friday unveiled legislation that would place restrictions on the sales of various U.S.-made weapons to Middle East countries other than Israel.

The legislation, introduced by Mr. Engel, New York Democrat, would require countries to meet certain benchmarks including signing a normalization agreement with Israel, ensuring the weapons are modified, a promise to not transfer the weapons, and commitment to not violate international humanitarian law, if they are interested in purchasing the advanced equipment.

“The Trump Administration has made it clear that they’ll put lethal weaponry in just about anyone’s hands without regard to potential loss of life so long as the check clears,” Mr. Engel said in a statement.

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“We need to know that such weapons will be used properly and in a way aligned with our security interests, which include protecting Israel’s qualitative military edge and ensuring adversaries can’t get their hands on American technology.”

Mr. Engel’s bill, dubbed the Middle East Advanced Technology Protection Act, was announced just one day after Congress was informally notified of a proposed sale of 50 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates. All international weapons sales must be approved by Congress before advancing.

The weapons sale, that was previously barred, became possible following the UAE’s signing of the Abraham Accords, an agreement to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel. The UAE was one of the first Arab states to do so in decades, and the move opened the door to greater military cooperation with the U.S.

Following the announcement, Israeli officials quickly rejected efforts from UAE officials to purchase the sophisticated F-35 fighter jets, a purchase that was previously banned.

Despite concern from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pro-Israel lawmakers in Congress that any sale could cut into Israel’s regional military superiority, Israeli officials ultimately agreed to the UAE’s purchase.

Mr. Engel, however, remains skeptical of the implications on Israel’s military edge if the sale were to proceed and has cited “serious concerns about the potential spread of such advanced weaponry in the region and its potential impact on Israel’s security.”

“The bill I’m introducing would lay out clear conditions governments would have to meet if they want to purchase the F-35 and other sensitive equipment,” he said.

Israeli delegations bask in UAE glow, even as details few

Israeli delegations bask in UAE glow, even as details few

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UAE Minister of State for Food and Water Security Mariam al-Muhairi, left, receives a gift from Erel Margalit, founder and chairman of Jerusalem Venture Partners, JVP, at the headquarter of the Government Accelerators in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Oct. … more >

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By ISABEL DEBRE

Associated Press

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Another plane full of Israeli business people excited about their newfound access to the United Arab Emirates touched down in Dubai this week, the latest whirlwind trip seeking to cash in on a U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations between the countries.

But like the normalization agreement itself, inked on the White House lawn last month to great fanfare, the steady stream of statements from big-name Israeli investors and moguls descending on Dubai are ebullient, but thin on details.

“One of the things that’s most touching and exciting for any individual in Israel … is the fact that this could be an opening to cooperation, an opening of goodwill,” Erel Margalit, founder of Jerusalem Venture Partners, a venture capital fund from the country’s thriving tech scene, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

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Trailed by an entourage of 14 Israeli startup executives, a slew of Israeli photographers, foreign journalists and public relations people, Margalit darted around the skyscraper-studded Dubai International Financial Center for meetings with Emirati officials, investors and entrepreneurs.

After years of conducting such deals only in the shadows, Israelis are basking in the photo ops, which presage a broader political shift in the region.

But the buzz also lays bare the differences between the two countries. In the UAE, well-salaried locals who rarely mix with the country’s millions of expatriates tend to shrink from press attention. The state owns or tightly controls the local media. On Tuesday, an Emirati official accompanying the UAE’s minister of food security for talks with Margalit was visibly upset by the crush of photographers swarming around their elbow-bump in the glass-walled conference room.

Although Emiratis have long fostered behind-the-scenes ties with Israeli corporations and officials, Israel was publicly viewed as a political pariah. The sight of a tiny Israeli flag emblazoned on the delegation’s welcome sign outside the Ritz Carlton in Dubai this week still drew double takes and iPhone snapshots from most passerby.

In a reflection of the lingering sensitivities, Margalit declined to name any of the Emirati investors or potential startup partners from the week of meetings. He also said that Palestinian entrepreneurs had flown with the delegation, but did not elaborate “for their sake.” The Palestinian leadership has rejected normalization as peeling away one of their few advantages in moribund peace talks with Israel.

“In Israel sometimes people want to jump to the deal,” Margalit said. “This is what I say to my many Israeli friends, be patient because, here, it takes time to build trust.”

For relations to thrive, the grandeur of Israeli business goals must be matched by an awareness of the situation’s uncertainty, said Ritam Chaurey, an expert on international economics at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“Ideally we’d expect that it’s an on and off switch,” he said. “But I expect persistent suspicions for both parties to play an important role, especially in the beginning.”

Yet Margalit is undeterred, promising to build “an innovation center” in Dubai for cyber, food, medical and financial technologies, like other successful hubs he’s created in New York City and the Galilee region of Israel.

“We won’t do something small, we’ll do something outstanding with the people here,” he said.

Israel drops objection to US sale of ‘certain’ arms to UAE

Israel drops objection to US sale of ‘certain’ arms to UAE

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FILE – In this Aug. 13, 2020 file photo, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces full diplomatic ties will be established with the United Arab Emirates, during a news conference in Jerusalem. Israel says, Friday, Oct. 23, it will not … more >

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By JOSEPH KRAUSS

Associated Press

Friday, October 23, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel said Friday it will not oppose the U.S. sale of “certain weapon systems” to the United Arab Emirates following an agreement with Washington to upgrade its own capabilities in order to preserve its military edge in the Middle East.

The statement released by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz did not specify which weapons systems, but appeared to refer to the possible sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets, which the UAE hopes to obtain following its agreement to normalize ties with Israel.

Gantz’s office declined to elaborate on the statement, which was released late Friday in Israel, when the country is largely shut down for the Jewish Sabbath. There was no immediate comment from the Pentagon.

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The statement said Gantz reached “understandings” with the Pentagon during a visit to Washington this week that “will allow the procurement of advanced weapon systems that will significantly upgrade Israel’s military capabilities, maintain its security and its military advantage in the region as well as its qualitative military edge in the coming decades.”

It said Gantz was “notified by the US administration of its plans to notify Congress of its intention to provide certain weapon systems to the UAE.”

“The Prime Minister and the Defense Minister both agree that since the US is upgrading Israel’s military capability and is maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, Israel will not oppose the sale of these systems to the UAE,” it said.

The UAE agreed to normalize relations with Israel earlier this year, bringing longstanding covert ties into the open in a deal hailed by the U.S. and Israel as an historic breakthrough in Middle East diplomacy. The UAE and Bahrain, which signed a similar normalization agreement, became the third and fourth Arab nations to establish formal diplomatic ties with Israel.

Sudan agreed to normalize ties with Israel earlier on Friday. Egypt and Jordan made peace with Israel decades ago.

Israelis welcomed the agreement with the UAE, which paved the way for the other normalization accords, but word that the U.S. intended to sell F-35s to the Emirates proved controversial.

Netanyahu repeatedly denied there was any link between arms deals and opening ties to the Emirates. That was met with skepticism in Israel, particularly amid accusations that he bypassed Israel’s defense establishment in agreeing to a past German sale of advanced submarines to Egypt.

Critics have accused Netanyahu of lying over a key element that is believed to have clinched the deal for the UAE. Gantz, a political rival who formed a fractious coalition government with Netanyahu last spring, said he was kept in the dark about the UAE deal until the last minute.

Netanyahu said in a statement late Friday that the discussion of arms sales only began after the normalization accords were concluded and that he did not object because the U.S. agreed to upgrade Israel’s own capabilities.

Emirati officials pay first Israel visit after forging ties

Emirati officials pay first Israel visit after forging ties

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By ILAN BEN ZION

Associated Press

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – A delegation of senior Emirati officials visited Israel on Tuesday for the first time since the two countries agreed to normalize relations, where they signed a slew of bilateral agreements meant to solidify their new ties.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin accompanied Emirati Finance Minister Obaid Humaid al-Tayer and other senior officials from the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. on the Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted al-Tayer and Mnuchin at Israel’s Ben-Gurion international airport before signing a series of bilateral agreements between Israel and the UAE, including civil aviation, visa exemption and science and innovation deals.

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“Today we are making history. We are making history in a way that will stand for generations,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony stage in a tent on the tarmac. “We will remember this day, a glorious day of peace.”

The ceremony was closed to the media, and the Emirati delegation was to hold all meetings at the airport, apparently over coronavirus concerns.

Al-Tayer said that the Emirates sought to establish legal frameworks with Israel “to achieve prosperity for both our economies and our people.”

Israel and the UAE announced in August they had agreed to normalize ties under a U.S.-brokered deal, and signed accords on the White House lawn in September. In the weeks since, the two countries have signed a raft of business, banking and intergovernmental agreements, along with an end to a longstanding boycott by the UAE against Israel.

One of those agreements announced Tuesday aims to ship oil from the Persian Gulf to Europe through one of Israel’s key pipelines. The Israeli oil pipeline company, Europe Asia Pipeline Company, said it signed an initial deal in Abu Dhabi with an Israeli-Emirati joint venture, MED-RED Land Bridge. The deal is to ship oil from the UAE and other “eastern markets” to Israel through the pipeline that runs from Israel’s southern seaport of Eilat to a terminal in Ashkelon on the Mediterranean Sea.

“The Abraham Accords establish direct economic ties between two of the Middle East’s most thriving and advanced economies,” Mnuchin said at the ceremony. “These ties create a tremendous foundation for economic growth, opportunity, innovation and prosperity. With greater economic prosperity comes stronger security.”

At the ceremony, the U.S., UAE and Israel announced the establishment of the Abraham Fund, which aims to raise $3 billion in private funding for “development initiatives to promote regional economic cooperation and prosperity in the Middle East and beyond.”

Neighboring Gulf monarchy Bahrain also recently signed an agreement to normalize relations with Israel. The UAE and Bahrain are the third and fourth Arab states to establish ties with Israel. Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively.

Mnuchin flew with Israeli officials to Bahrain earlier this week for the signing of bilateral agreements between Israel and the Gulf monarchy.

Israel settlement plans draw international condemnation

Israel settlement plans draw international condemnation

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Jewish settlers fight fire in olive groves near their outpost that was caused by Israeli police’s teargas canisters, used to disperse Palestinian farmers going to their groves, in the West Bank village of Burqa, East of Ramallah, Friday, Oct. 16, … more >

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By FARES AKRAM

Associated Press

Friday, October 16, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli plans to advance the building of thousands of settlement units in the occupied West Bank drew European condemnation on Friday as approvals for constructions hit a record high in 2020.

The European countries warned the building perpetuates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further threatens the viability of a two-state solution. The warning came after Israel on Thursday pressed forward on plans for more than 3,000 West Bank settlement homes.

The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as part of a future independent state. They say the growing settler population, approaching 500,000 in the West Bank, has made it increasingly difficult to achieve their dream of independence.

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“We are deeply concerned by the decision taken by the Israeli authorities to advance more than 4,900 settlement building units in the occupied West Bank,” said a joint statement by foreign ministry spokespersons of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

“It is also a counterproductive move in light of the positive developments of normalization agreements reached between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain,” it added, referring to the recent historic agreements between Israel and the two Gulf Arab countries.

Ayman al-Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister, called for international pressure on Israel to stop the building of new settlements. On Thursday, the top diplomat of the European Union also condemned the latest Israeli decision.

“Settlements are illegal under international law. As stated consistently, the EU will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties,” the bloc’s foreign relations chief Josep Borrell said.

The latest Israeli approvals are part of a building boom that has gained steam during the presidency of Donald Trump. It also comes months after Israel promised to put on hold plans to annex parts of the West Bank in exchange for a U.S.-brokered normalization deal with the UAE.

The approvals raised the number of settlement homes to be advanced this year to more than 12,150, according to Peace Now, a settlement watchdog group. It is by far the highest number of approvals since Trump took office in early 2017 and the highest since Peace Now began recording the figures in 2012.

Also Friday, Palestinians clashed with Israeli troops and settlers in the West Bank village of Burqa, east of the city of Ramallah, while trying to get to their olive groves near a Jewish settlers outpost and harvest the olives. Harvest time is often a flashpoint between the sides.

Israeli troops fired tear gas and stun grenades to try to disperse the crowd. The military said in a statement that dozens of Palestinians threw stones at the troops, which the military said were there in coordination with the farmers.

Later, both Jewish settlers and Palestinian farmers fought fires in the olive groves caused by Israeli police’s teargas canisters.

Israeli parliament formally approves UAE normalization deal

Israeli parliament formally approves UAE normalization deal

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, arrives at the Israeli Knesset, or Parliament in Jerusalem ahead of the discussion of the peace treaty with the United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By

Associated Press

Thursday, October 15, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel’s parliament on Thursday voted overwhelmingly in favor of formally ratifying the country’s historic agreement normalizing diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates.

Israel and the UAE announced the U.S.-brokered agreement in August, and signed a deal in a White House ceremony last month. Thursday’s approval by the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament, which passed in a 80-13 vote, was largely a formality.

The UAE has become just the third Arab country to establish official ties with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan, and the first to do so in a quarter century. Bahrain is also in the process of formalizing ties with Israel, and the White House has suggested that other Arab countries will follow suit.

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The deals reflect a shift in the Middle East as Arab countries’ shared concerns with Israel about Iran outweigh their traditional support for the Palestinians.

“Many Arab and Muslim countries want to get close to us,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech. “They see our military and intelligence, technological and economic power. They are changing their attitude toward us.”

The Palestinians, who have long relied on unified Arab support to boost them against Israel, have condemned the deal and accused the UAE of betrayal.

The Joint List, the main Arab-dominated faction in parliament, cast the lone opposing votes Thursday in solidarity with their Palestinian brethren.

Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, said the only deal that would bring peace and prosperity to the region would be a peace agreement creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“The deal being signed today is part of Trump’s dangerous vision that … will perpetuate the military regime on millions of Palestinians, the settlements and the outposts,” he wrote in a tweet before the vote.

China FM calls US Indo-Pacific strategy a huge security risk

China FM calls US Indo-Pacific strategy a huge security risk

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – The United States poses a “huge security risk” to Asia by pushing to boost engagement with the region, China’s foreign minister said Tuesday during a tour of Southeast Asia, where Beijing and Washington are locked in a battle for influence.

Speaking in Malaysia, Wang Yi said the U.S.’s real aim is “to build an Indo-Pacific NATO,” in a strategy he said harkened back to the Cold War.

Washington is trying to “stir up confrontation among different groups and blocs, and stir up geopolitical competition while maintaining the predominance and hegemony system of the U.S.,” Wang said at a joint news conference with his Malaysian counterpart, Hishammuddin Hussein.

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“In this sense, this strategy itself is a huge security risk,” Wang said.

Wang also urged Southeast Asian nations, which are aiming to draw up a code of conduct with China in the South China Sea, to remove “external disruption” in the disputed waters, but did not elaborate.

Wang’s tone is typical of China’s increasingly hard-line approach to disputes with Washington as it seeks to capitalize on political divisions within the U.S. and a perceived decline in America’s global influence to advance its own foreign policy aims.

China’s aggressive moves to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea, through which a third of global shipping passes, have drawn rebuke from the United States and become a flashpoint for a region in which Southeast Asian nations Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all have rival claims.

Hishammuddin said the disputes over the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully through regional dialogue.

The U.S. says its Indo-Pacific engagement framework supports sovereignty, transparency, good governance and a rules-based order, among other things.

By using the term “Indo-Pacific,” the U.S. also wants to propagate the idea that the region stretches far beyond China’s backyard and the tiger economies of East Asia to include the Indian Ocean.

Missouri voter rights case in the hands of appeals panel

Missouri voter rights case in the hands of appeals panel

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By JIM SALTER

Associated Press

Monday, October 12, 2020

O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) – With the election just three weeks away, a federal appeals panel in St. Louis is expected to rule soon on whether Missourians casting mail-in ballots can drop them off in person, despite a state regulation requiring them to be received through the mail.

U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes in Kansas City on Friday issued a temporary restraining order allowing voters to return mail-in ballots in person, saying any harm or cost to the secretary of state’s office was minimal, “especially when weighed against the risk of total disenfranchisement of Missouri voters.”

Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said in a statement that he was “disappointed a federal judge decided to legislate from the bench and overturn the will of the people, through their elected representatives, to have safe and secure elections.”

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But a day after his initial ruling, Wimes granted Ashcroft’s request for a temporary stay, pending a ruling by the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s unclear when the three-judge panel will issue its ruling.

Amid concerns about voting during the coronavirus pandemic, Missouri lawmakers in the spring approved a plan allowing anyone to vote by mail. One aspect of the law prohibits dropping the ballot off in person.

The new law got its first test in the August primary election. Denise Lieberman, attorney for the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, said Monday that the lawsuit was based on concerns raised by voters after the primary.

“This relief will allow voters to be able to ensure that their ballot is received in time to be counted under Missouri’s very strict receipt deadlines,” Lieberman said.

Another provision of the Missouri law was the subject of a different ruling Friday. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed the state could require absentee ballot envelopes to be notarized. The voting rights groups had sued in state court over that provision, claiming that forcing people to use a notary creates a risk of exposure to the virus.

The state law approved earlier this year includes an exception allowing “at-risk” people such as the elderly, those with certain health conditions and those living in long-term care facilities to vote absentee without ballot envelopes being notarized.

Lieberman said the Missouri Supreme Court ruling cannot be appealed.

Israeli government approves normalization deal with UAE

Israeli government approves normalization deal with UAE

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan react on the Blue Room Balcony after signing the Abraham Accords during a … more >

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Associated Press

Monday, October 12, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – The Israeli government unanimously approved the country’s recently signed normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates on Monday ahead of a ratification vote by parliament.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement following his weekly Cabinet meeting that he spoke over the weekend with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

“We talked about co-operations that we are advancing – in investment, tourism, energy, technology and other fields,” Netanyahu told the Cabinet, with Israeli and Emirati flags flanking the conference table. “We will also cooperate and are already cooperating in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.”

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Sheikh Mohammed, the UAE’s day-to-day ruler, separately tweeted confirmation of the call Monday, saying they discussed “prospects for peace and the need for stability, cooperation and development in the region.”

Netanyahu’s office said it was the first conversation between the two leaders since the Sept. 15 signing ceremony on the White House lawn he attended with the Emirates’ foreign minister. The Knesset is slated to vote on ratifying the deal on Thursday.

Neighboring Gulf monarchy Bahrain also signed an agreement on Sept. 15 at the White House to normalize relations with Israel, making the UAE and Bahrain the third and fourth Arab states to establish ties with Israel. Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively.

The so-called “Abraham Accords” brought long-clandestine ties between Israel and several Gulf states – forged in recent years over a shared concern over regional rival Iran – into the open. The weeks since have seen a flurry of business, banking and intergovernmental agreements between the UAE and Israel, though moves toward normalization have been slower in Bahrain.

The normalization agreements have outraged the Palestinians, whose leaders have called the deals a betrayal of a longtime Arab stance that recognition of Israel would come only after Palestinians obtain an independent state of their own.

Foreign workers struggle to return to UAE amid virus limbo

Foreign workers struggle to return to UAE amid virus limbo

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In this family photograph, Eudinson Uy, right, poses for a photograph with his wife, Allaina Pelayo, and their infant son Benjamin Timoteo, in Yerevan, Armenia, July 9, 2020. They are among the hundreds of thousands of foreign residents of the … more >

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By MALAK HARB

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Eudinson Uy and his pregnant wife planned to return to their home in the United Arab Emirates after a vacation in Armenia, but due to a subsequent lockdown of the Gulf country over the coronavirus pandemic, she ended up giving birth there.

Four months later, the Filipino couple and their baby boy are still stuck in Armenia, like thousands of others now trying to return to the UAE, which relies on a vast foreign workforce.

“I have called the UAE Embassy here in Armenia, immigration in Dubai, and all the hotlines and emergency hotlines given by the UAE, but all of them said they cannot help us even if my wife is pregnant,” Uy said.

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Before the lockdown, foreign workers who had planned work trips or holidays, or to give birth near family back home, flew out of the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. They left behind jobs, families, homes and other responsibilities, to which they had always planned to return.

On July 7, Dubai reopened to tourists. The Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship has meanwhile launched efforts to return an estimated 200,000 people to the UAE, but the rules remain unclear and many have had their applications rejected.

Some members of a Facebook group for foreign workers stranded outside said they applied and got rejected over 10 times. One woman said she applied 21 times.

The rules remain particularly unclear when it comes to newborns. Many new mothers who traveled outside the Emirates to give birth found themselves unable to bring back their children. All UAE residents – including children – require a national ID number to return.

The Emirati government does not issue newborns a national ID until they have a residency visa. But many parents could not get their children visas because Emirati embassies abroad were closed due to the pandemic.

“It’s like a Catch-22,” said Minna Joseph, who has been in Canada since February. “A lot of mothers just have no idea how to bring back their babies.”

Joseph was planning on returning in March but is currently in Vancouver, waiting to bring her newborn son back.

Dubai opening to tourists helped some return, as Westerners and those from the Gulf Cooperation Council states get visas on arrival in the UAE. But others, including those from the Asian nations that supply the Emirates its army of laborers, cleaners, taxi drivers and office workers, need a visa issued beforehand.

Dubai also instituted a new system that links newborn babies to their mothers’ IDs. But the UAE’s six other emirates all have their own immigration rules. Abu Dhabi, for instance, still has its border closed off to the other emirates, requiring a recent negative COVID-19 test before allowing people in.

When the UAE shut down air travel in March, Emirati citizens abroad were able to come back home, but the foreign workers found it much harder. The government made only occasional exceptions for emergencies and humanitarian cases.

“We felt discouraged about what they told us; that they cannot help us even if my wife is pregnant,” Uy said. “We really felt sad seeing that they have repatriated to UAE some people who are not even in an emergency case, like my wife.”

Foreign medical workers have been on the front lines of treating COVID-19 patients in the Emirates, which has reported nearly 55,000 cases and at least 333 deaths since the outbreak began.

At one point, the government released a video of Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, saying he “teared up” while watching residents singing the UAE national anthem and commended their loyalty.

Many of those stuck outside the country feel their loyalty has not been rewarded.

They include Iqra Kamran, a 25-year-old who recently gave birth to her daughter in Karachi, Pakistan. She and her husband were separated for months after he was allowed to return to their home in the UAE. She was not able to join him with their child until Dubai introduced its new system at the end of June.

“My husband is living in UAE and serving UAE for I think eight years or nine years,” she said. “So they should favor us.”

Officials in Dubai and at the federal level in Abu Dhabi did not respond to requests for comment.

While countries around the world took unprecedented measures in the wake of the pandemic, shutting their borders to travelers, many have since allowed their residents back.

Joseph is still waiting for that chance in Canada with her newborn and her four-year-old daughter Kataleia. Her husband, Stefan, in Dubai, tries to be part of their lives, despite the 11-hour time difference.

“You know it’s really sad. It’s really difficult,” she said. “Thank God for video calls, it’s really great. Stef gets to read Kiki a story every night.”

___

Follow Malak Harb on Twitter at www.twitter.com/malakharb.

Israeli, UAE technology firms pen deal on virus research

Israeli, UAE technology firms pen deal on virus research

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Benjamin Netanyahu maintaining vow to annex West Bank land by July 1

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By JOSEPH KRAUSS

Associated Press

Friday, July 3, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – A state-linked technology company in the United Arab Emirates has signed a partnership with two major Israeli defense firms to research ways of combating the coronavirus pandemic.

The agreement, announced late Thursday, comes just weeks after the UAE warned Israel that proceeding with its planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank would upend its efforts to improve ties with Arab states.

G42, an Abu Dhabi-based company specializing in artificial intelligence and cloud computing, signed a memorandum of understanding with Rafael and Israel Aerospace Industries, the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency reported. It said executives held a signing ceremony by video link between the two countries, which do not have diplomatic relations.

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Rafael and IAI’s Elta subsidiary confirmed the agreement. Elta, which specializes in sensors, radars, electronic warfare and communication systems, said they would cooperate on research and technology focused on artificial intelligence, sensors and lasers.

They said the collaboration would not only benefit the two countries, but the entire world as it grapples with the pandemic.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to annex all of Israel’s West Bank settlements as well as the strategic Jordan Valley, had announced an agreement with the UAE a week ago, without providing specifics.

Only two Arab countries, Jordan and Egypt, have made peace with Israel, with the rest saying it must first resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. But Israel has quietly improved ties with Gulf countries in recent years, in part because of their shared concerns about Iran.

In recent weeks, senior UAE officials have warned that annexation would jeopardize those improved ties, but have also suggested that the two countries could set aside their political disputes to collaborate on humanitarian and other projects.

President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, which overwhelmingly favors Israel and was rejected by the Palestinians, would allow Israel to annex up to 30% of the West Bank, which it occupied in the 1967 war along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians want all three territories to form their future state.

The U.N., European and Arab countries have warned Israel against annexation, which is widely seen as a violation of international law that would dash any remaining hopes of reaching a two-state solution to the conflict.

Group 42, also known as G42, is led by CEO Peng Xiao. He previously ran Pegasus, a subsidiary of DarkMatter, a cybersecurity firm based in the UAE that has recruited Western intelligence agents.

Since late 2016, Dubai police have partnered with Pegasus to use its “big data” application to pool hours of surveillance video to track anyone in the emirate. DarkMatter’s hiring of former CIA and National Security Agency analysts has raised concerns, especially as the UAE has harassed and imprisoned human rights activists.

AP Interview: US envoy calls for Iran arms embargo renewal

AP Interview: US envoy calls for Iran arms embargo renewal

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FILE – In this Nov. 29, 2018 file photo, Brian Hook, U.S. special representative for Iran, speaks at the Iranian Materiel Display at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington. An expiring United Nations weapons embargo on Iran must remain in place … more >

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By JON GAMBRELL

Associated Press

Sunday, June 28, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – An expiring United Nations weapons embargo on Iran must remain in place to prevent it from “becoming the arms dealer of choice for rogue regimes and terrorist organizations around the world,” the U.S. special representative to Iran said Sunday.

Brian Hook told The Associated Press that the world should ignore Iran’s threats to retaliate if the arms embargo set to expire in October is extended, calling it a “mafia tactic.” Among its options, the Islamic Republic could expel international inspectors monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, deepening a crisis created by President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrawing from Tehran’s 2015 atomic accord with global powers.

The U.N. arms embargo so far has stopped Iran from purchasing fighter jets, tanks, warships and other weaponry, but has failed to halt its smuggling of weapons into war zones. Despite that, Hook argued both an import and export ban on Tehran must remain in place to secure the wider Mideast.

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“If we let it expire, you can be certain that what Iran has been doing in the dark, it will do in broad daylight and then some,” Hook said.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hook’s remarks. However, President Hassan Rouhani described 2020 as Iran’s “most difficult year” on Sunday due to the U.S. economic pressure campaign and the coronavirus pandemic.

Hook made the comments while on a visit to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the U.S.-allied United Arab Emirates, as part of a Mideast tour. Hook met Saturday with Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and planned Sunday to meet with other officials. Hook declined to say where else he would travel on his trip.

Hook spoke to AP journalists in Dubai via videoconference as Abu Dhabi’s borders remain closed to the UAE’s six other sheikhdoms over the pandemic.

The United Nations banned Iran from buying major foreign weapon systems in 2010 amid tensions over its nuclear program. That blocked Iran from replacing its aging equipment, much of which had been purchased by the shah before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. An earlier embargo targeted Iranian arms exports.

If the embargo is lifted, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency predicted in 2019 that Iran likely would try to purchase Russian Su-30 fighter jets, Yak-130 trainer aircraft and T-90 tanks. Tehran also may try to buy Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and its Bastian coastal defense missile system, the DIA said.

Iran long has been outmatched by U.S.-backed Gulf nations like the UAE, which have purchased billions of dollars of advanced American weaponry. In response, Tehran turned toward developing ballistic missiles as a deterrent. Hook declined to discuss an explosion Friday in Iran near an area analysts believe hides an underground tunnel system and missile production sites.

Being able to pay for new, foreign weapons systems, however, remains in question. U.S. sanctions imposed after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal have crushed Iran’s oil sales, a major source of revenue. Energy prices have also collapsed amid the pandemic.

Asked about how Iran would pay for the new weapons, Hook said Tehran’s lowered revenues represented “a good thing for the region” and affected its ability to back its regional proxies, like Syria.

“We have put this regime through our strategy on the horns of a dilemma,” Hook said. “They have to choose between guns in Damascus or butter in Tehran.”

That financial pressure has led to sporadic anti-government protests in Iran, including nationwide demonstrations in November that Amnesty International says saw over 300 people killed. While the Trump administration has maintained it doesn’t seek to overthrow Iran’s government, its pressure campaign has exacerbated public anger against its Shiite theocracy.

Since Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Iran has broken all the accord’s production limits. The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iranian nuclear activity as part of the deal, says Tehran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium continues to grow.

While not at weapons-grade levels, the growing stockpile and increased production shortens the one-year timeline analysts believe Iran would need to have enough material for a nuclear weapon if it chose to pursue one. Iran long has denied seeking atomic bombs, though the IAEA previously said Iran had done work in “support of a possible military dimension to its nuclear program” that largely halted in late 2003.

Iran has threatened to expel IAEA inspectors and withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty amid the U.S. pressure campaign. North Korea, which now has nuclear weapons, is the only country to ever withdraw from the treaty.

“If we play by Iran’s rules, Iran wins,” Hook said. “It is a mafia tactic where people are intimidated into accepting a certain kind of behavior for fear of something far worse.”

Hook maintained that the U.N.’s ban on Iran exporting weapons abroad also needed to remain in place, even though it has not prevented Tehran from smuggling arms. Iranian arms in particular have turned up in Yemen, where Tehran-backed Houthi rebels fight a Saudi-led coalition.

“I don’t think anyone believes that Iran’s behavior merits loosening restrictions on their ability to move weapons,” Hook said.

____

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

UAE envoy warns Israeli annexation would ‘upend’ Arab ties

UAE envoy warns Israeli annexation would ‘upend’ Arab ties

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Billboards shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and U.S President Donald Trump in Jerusalem, placed by Yesha Council, an organization of municipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Wednesday, June 10, 2020. Hebrew on billboard reads “No … more >

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By JOSEPH KRAUSS

Associated Press

Friday, June 12, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the U.S. on Friday warned Israel against annexing the Jordan Valley and other parts of the occupied West Bank, saying the move would “upend” Israel’s efforts to improve ties with Arab countries.

A former Israeli prime minister meanwhile dismissed arguments that Israel must maintain control of the Jordan Valley for security purposes as “nonsense.”

UAE envoy Yousef al-Otaiba was among three Arab ambassadors who attended President Donald Trump’s January unveiling of his Mideast plan, which allows Israel to annex around 30% of the West Bank and was immediately rejected by the Palestinians.

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In an editorial published by Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper, al-Otaiba warned that Israel’s planned annexation – a process that could begin as soon as July 1 – would “ignite violence and rouse extremists.”

“It will send shock waves around the region, especially in Jordan whose stability – often taken for granted – benefits the entire region, particularly Israel,” al-Otaiba wrote.

The UAE, a close and influential U.S. military ally, has been a major focus of Israel’s efforts in recent years to improve ties with Gulf Arab countries that share its concerns about Iran.

The two countries have no formal diplomatic ties, but the Emirates have allowed Israeli officials to visit, and the Israeli national anthem was played after an athlete won gold in an Abu Dhabi judo tournament. Israel also has a small mission representing its interests at the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi.

Al-Otaiba warned that annexation would be a major setback.

“Annexation will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with UAE,” he wrote.

The UAE Foreign Ministry later tweeted about the article in Hebrew.

Lior Haiat, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, retweeted the post, saying it was a “nice surprise” to read the tweet in Hebrew. He said peace was an opportunity for the whole region, and that the U.S. plan is a “starting point to realize this vision.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to annex the Jordan Valley, which makes up around a quarter of the West Bank, as well as Israel’s far-flung Jewish settlements. That would make it virtually impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, which is still widely seen as the only way to resolve the conflict.

The Palestinians want a state in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war. The Trump plan would give them a limited form of statehood in scattered enclaves surrounded by Israel if they meet a long list of conditions.

Arab countries have welcomed the Trump administration’s efforts but have rejected the plan itself, reaffirming their support for a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines.

Only two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan, have made peace with Israel. In the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, the rest pledged peace and recognition in return for Israel’s withdrawal from all territories seized in 1967 and a “just solution” to the Palestinian refugee issue.

“In the UAE and across much of the Arab world, we would like to believe Israel is an opportunity, not an enemy. We face too many common dangers and see the great potential of warmer ties,” al-Otaiba wrote.

Israel’s decision on annexation will be an unmistakable signal of whether it sees it the same way.”

European leaders have also come out against annexation. Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told Germany’s Der Spiegel that annexation would be a “gross violation” of international law and that European countries must try to prevent it.

“To simply write reproachful letters would be a humiliation for the EU and would significantly weaken its credibility,” he said. Asselborn suggested EU member states should respond to any annexation by recognizing a Palestinian state, pointing out that doing so would not require unanimity among the bloc’s fractious 27 members.

Netanyahu has argued that Israel must maintain full control of the Jordan Valley to meet its security needs. Israeli leaders have long expressed fears that withdrawing from the valley could open them up to a future Arab invasion from the east.

But in an interview with an Arab-language media outlet, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed those concerns as “nonsense.”

“We can defend out border without the Jordan Valley, and anyone who says it is important for security is lying to the people,” he said in an interview with Elaph, a private Saudi-owned media outlet based in the U.K.

Olmert, who came close to reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians before stepping down in 2009 to face corruption charges, told Elaph he had reached an agreement with King Abdullah II of Jordan to deploy NATO peacekeepers along the border after an Israeli withdrawal.

Olmert is a harsh critic of Netanyahu, who succeeded him. There have been no substantive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since Olmert left office.

UAE flight lands in Israel with medical aid for Palestinians

UAE flight lands in Israel with medical aid for Palestinians

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By

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – An Etihad Airways cargo plane carrying aid from the United Arab Emirates to help the Palestinians combat the coronavirus pandemic landed in Israel on Tuesday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said. It was the second direct commercial flight flew between the two countries in a month.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner decorated in the Gulf airline’s markings arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport carrying humanitarian aid provided by the UAE.

Last month, an unmarked Etihad commercial flight carrying medical equipment for the Palestinians landed in Israel – the first-ever direct commercial flight between the UAE and Israel.

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Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that “the aid will be transferred to Gaza and the (Palestinian Authority) by the UN and COGAT,” Israel’s military body coordinating with the Palestinians. It said the plane’s arrival was coordinated with Israeli authorities.

The two flights have delivered some 16 tons of material, including personal protective equipment and around 15 ventilators, in response to an appeal led by the United Nations for the Palestinian people in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a U.N. official said.

The U.N. plans to distribute the equipment to the most needy Palestinians and is likely to send a large part to the Gaza Strip, the official said, noting the increased needs there and the particularly weak health infrastructure. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the operation with the media.

Last month’s flight marked a moment of cooperation between Israel and the UAE after years of rumored back-channel communications over the mutual concerns about Iran and other matters.

The UAE, home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the Arabian Peninsula, has no official diplomatic ties with Israel.

But the Palestinian leadership rejected the shipment, saying it hadn’t been coordinated with the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian officials are also concerned the flights are a step toward normalization. The aid from the first plane was set to be transferred to the Gaza Strip, and not the West Bank.

While not acknowledging Israel diplomatically, the Emirates have let Israeli officials visit and the Israeli national anthem was played after an athlete won gold at an Abu Dhabi judo tournament last year. Israel also has a small mission representing its interests at the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi.

Yemen’s south in turmoil after separatists’ self-rule bid

Yemen’s south in turmoil after separatists’ self-rule bid

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In this Sept. 5, 2019, file photo, supporters of southern separatists gather with the flags of south Yemen and the United Arab Emirates during a rally to show support for the UAE amid a standoff with the internationally recognized government, … more >

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By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

CAIRO (AP) — A bid by separatists funded by the United Arab Emirates to assert control over southern Yemen has reopened a dangerous new front in Yemen’s civil war and pushed it closer to fragmentation at a time when the coronavirus pandemic poses a growing threat.

The separatists’ recent declaration of self-rule over the key port city of Aden and other southern provinces also further pits Saudi Arabia and the UAE on opposing sides in the conflict, now in its sixth year. A separatist leader made the declaration from the UAE — a clear sign of its backing for the move.

The two Gulf states had been partners in a coalition waging war against Iran-linked Houthi rebels who seized the northern part of Yemen in 2014.

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The two allies have conflicting interests in the south, though, and are aligned with rival sides. The UAE backs the separatists, and Saudi Arabia sides with Yemen’s internationally recognized government, led by exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The intensifying split in the south could further impede the Saudis’ efforts to find a way out of the costly and seemingly unwinnable war against the Houthis.

Saudi Arabia has accelerated its exit strategy in recent months, including conducting back channel talks with the rebels. Last month, the Saudis declared a unilateral cease-fire, but it was rebuffed by the Houthis as a purported ploy, and fighting continued.

The UAE, meanwhile, is interested in securing shipping lanes along the Red Sea corridor and the crucial Bab el-Mandeb chokepoint off Yemen’s shoreline. The UAE is both a major oil exporter and home to DP World, a global shipping and logistics firm. By supporting Yemeni separatists, the UAE also ensures that the Saudi-backed Islah party – the transnational Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Yemen – won’t grow too powerful. The UAE opposes Brotherhood affiliates throughout the Middle East.

“It’s becoming a conflict by proxy between the UAE and Saudis,” said Fernando Carvajal, a former member of the U.N. Security Council Panel of Experts.

Yemen’s conflict has split the country along tribal, regional and political lines. It started with the Houthis taking Sanaa, the capital, in 2014. In the spring of 2015, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Arab states formed a coalition to battle the rebels and curb Iran’s influence in what turned into a regional proxy war.

Since then, more than 100,000 people – fighters and civilians – have been killed. Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition and Houthis’ ground fighting has displaced more than 3 million people and left millions of others unable to meet basic needs, pushing them to near-famine conditions.

The bid for southern self-rule comes as the country finds itself on the brink of a devastating virus outbreak.

Yemen has only reported 21 confirmed cases of the virus, including three fatalities, most of them in Aden, according to the internationally recognized government’s Health Ministry. Aden residents claimed the hospitals shut their doors as medical staffers feared contracting the virus while lacking protective equipment.

The World Health Organization warned Saturday that the virus is actively circulating in Yemen and that it’s preparing for the possibility of half the population getting infected.

In the south, the separatists’ power grab brought fighting to areas that had been largely untouched by violence, threatening further displacement.

Late last week, explosions and artillery fire echoed through the valleys of the island of Socotra, a UNESCO world heritage site and home to species not found elsewhere. Separatists fought with forces loyal to Hadi’s government on the island, a former UAE stronghold.

The UAE officially pulled troops out of southern Yemen last summer, but it continues to exert control through its proxies to ensure it holds onto key areas on Yemen’s 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) of coastline.

Separatist leader Aydarous al-Zubaidi delivered the April 25 declaration of self-rule from the UAE’s seat of government, Abu Dhabi.

Al-Zubaidi heads the Southern Transitional Council, an umbrella group of heavily armed and well- financed militias propped up by the UAE since 2015. The council hopes to restore an independent southern Yemen, which existed from 1967-1990.

The southern fighting leaves Hadi’s government in a much weaker position amid efforts to end the conflict with the Houthis.

The self-rule declaration robbed the Hadi government of its temporary capital, Aden. Hadi has been living in exile in the Saudi capital of Riyadh for several years, but his government maintained a presence in Aden.

His government called the announcement a “blatant coup” against a peace deal with the separatists signed in Riyadh in November. The Saudis had brokered the agreement after deadly battles between the separatists and Hadi-allied forces. The fighting left the separatists in firm control of Aden, with the help of air cover from Emirati jets.

The Saudi-led coalition said the self-rule declaration was a “strange action” and called for the implementation of the Riyadh power-sharing deal, which stipulated the handover of heavy weapons, withdrawal of rival forces, and formation a new government.

The Hadi government said it had largely upheld the November power-sharing agreement and accused the separatists of failing to meet their obligations.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the foreign minister in Hadi’s government, Mohammed al-Hadhrami, appealed to the UAE to stop its support for the separatists’ council.

Derailing the November agreement “means bringing down all efforts for a comprehensive and just peace deal,” he said.

It’s unclear if Saudi Arabia has the stamina for more maneuvering in Yemen. The Saudis are already embroiled in an international oil price war and a coronavirus outbreak of their own.

Consolidating Yemen’s south to only continue their stalemate with the Houthis might prove too great a task, some observers say.

“It’s like a bullet-riddled boat and Saudis have to use all their 10 fingers and 10 toes to plug in all holes else the ship will sink,” said Carvajal.

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Associated Press writer Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.