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'We welcome all Israeli tourists who want to come'

Israel and Morocco to launch direct flights in 2-3 months

Moroccan minister says study is underway on how to boost Israeli tourism

The national flags of Morocco, Israel and the United States on an El Al plane to Morocco flying a delegation to finalize a normalization deal between Jerusalem and Rabat, at Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv, December 22, 2020. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
The national flags of Morocco, Israel and the United States on an El Al plane to Morocco flying a delegation to finalize a normalization deal between Jerusalem and Rabat, at Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv, December 22, 2020. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Direct flights will begin operating between Israel and Morocco within two or three months, Morocco’s tourism minister said.

“The signing of agreements, which took place on Tuesday, between the Kingdom of Morocco and the State of Israel is part of a will to re-establish regular air routes between the two countries in 2 to 3 months,” said Nadia Fettah Alaoui, according to a report by the country’s official Maghreb Arabe Press news agency. “We welcome all Israeli tourists who want to come to Morocco,” she added.

Alaoui cited “great enthusiasm” on both sides for the resumption of direct flights and said some 40,000-50,000 Jewish visitors come to Morocco each year already. Israelis could already enter Morocco as part of organized tours, traveling through third countries, but will now be able to travel individually and have an easier time getting visas.

“These tourists will continue to come and return to Morocco and show it to other countries,” Alaoui said.

She said a study was underway to promote Israeli tourism to Morocco, and to determine how to best meet the needs of Israeli visitors, including by training tour guides, the report said.

Alaoui made the statement on Wednesday during a conference in the capital Rabat.

Israel and Morocco announced an agreement to normalize relations earlier this month in a deal brokered by the US. Washington recognized Morocco’s claim to the disputed Western Sahara region as part of the agreement.

A joint Israeli-American delegation visited Morocco on Tuesday to sign several bilateral agreements and a trilateral declaration to solidify the normalization agreement.

The group’s flight to Rabat was the first direct commercial flight from Israel to Morocco.

US Presidential adviser Jared Kushner, center, and National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, center-right, arrive at the Royal Palace in the Moroccan capital Rabat, December 22, 2020. (Fadel Senna/AFP)

The delegation held high-level talks with Moroccan officials, including King Mohammed VI, and Israel and Morocco announced they would move to swiftly reopen diplomatic missions in each country. The two countries previously operated liaison offices in each other’s lands which were closed some 20 years ago.

Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, and Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat led the delegation.

Morocco was the third Arab state this year to normalize ties with Israel under US-brokered deals, joining the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Sudan has also announced plans to normalize ties with Israel, though no official agreements have been signed.

The inaugural flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat was seen as highly symbolic. Before take-off, Kushner noted that a similar flight from Israel to the UAE after a normalization agreement was reached, kicked off a massive wave of Israelis traveling to the Gulf. He said the flight to Rabat might have similar “momentum.”

Over 50,000 Israelis have reportedly visited the UAE since the normalization of ties in September, spurred on by Israel and the UAE designating each other “green countries” with low virus infection rates, meaning travelers did not need to quarantine upon arrival or return. That loophole was closed Wednesday when Israel ordered all travelers returning to the country to quarantine in state-run hotels.

Morocco is home to North Africa’s largest Jewish community, which has been there since ancient times and grew with the arrival of Jews expelled from Spain by Catholic kings from 1492.

It reached about 250,000 in the late 1940s, 10 percent of the national population, but many Jews left after the creation of Israel in 1948, many fleeing local hostilities directed at them over the establishment of the Jewish state.

About 3,000 Jews remain in Morocco, and the Casablanca community is one of the country’s most active.

Israel, meanwhile, is home to 700,000 Jews of Moroccan origin.

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