Israel’s Netanyahu postpones planned visits to UAE, Bahrain

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday indefinitely postponed planned visits this month to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain due to Israel’s ongoing coronavirus travel restrictions.

The Israeli leader had expressed his intention to travel to Abu Dhabi and Manama ahead of March 23 Israeli elections, in what would have been his first official visit since the establishment of official diplomatic relations with the two Gulf countries last year.

Israel signed agreements with Bahrain and the UAE in September to normalize diplomatic ties after years of clandestine relations.

Netanyahu has said he plans to visit Israel’s new Gulf partners for several months. It would be the first official visit by an Israeli prime minister. But those plans have been repeatedly postponed.

Earlier this week, Israeli media reported that Netanyahu was cutting his planned visit to the Gulf from three days to just three hours because of the pandemic.

Netanyahu’s office said in a statement Thursday that “despite the importance of the trip to Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to postpone the visit at this stage because of the closed skies.”

Israel closed its airport to virtually all air traffic last month in a bid to halt the arrival of new variants of the coronavirus and stop the spread of the pandemic during the country’s third nationwide lockdown.

Israel has recorded over 671,000 cases of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic and 4,947 deaths, according to Health Ministry figures.

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