Report: Morocco blocks joint UAE-Israel effort to repatriate stranded citizens

In a peculiar diplomatic tussle, Rabat and Abu Dhabi said to argue over flight to bring home Israeli and and Emirati tourists stuck in Casablanca and Marrakesh

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: A Moroccan Jewish man looks out his window at the street below from his house in the 'Mellah' Jewish quarter of the Medina in Marrakesh, on October 13, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / FADEL SENNA)
Illustrative: A Moroccan Jewish man looks out his window at the street below from his house in the 'Mellah' Jewish quarter of the Medina in Marrakesh, on October 13, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / FADEL SENNA)

The Moroccan government has refused to approve a joint Israeli-Emirati effort that would repatriate tourists stranded in the North African country by the coronavirus pandemic, according to an Army Radio report Thursday.

Dozens of Israeli tourists in Casablanca and Marrakesh continued to hope for a way out of the peculiar diplomatic crisis, as the Jewish state appeared to be stuck in the middle between between two quarreling Arab countries — neither of which has official diplomatic ties with Israel.

Israel has largely closed its gates to foreign airlines amid the global pandemic, with Israeli airlines only carrying out sporadic flights to retrieve stranded citizens.

In a rare gesture of friendship, the United Arab Emirates had offered to send a plane to Morocco to pick up and fly home the Israelis stranded in Morocco together with 74 of its nationals who had missed Abu Dhabi’s first plane, which took 180 UAE citizens home a few days ago.

According to the report, the Emirates even offered to pay for the joint flight.

But Morocco was said to veto the plan, insisting it was solely responsible for the stranded Israelis but apparently failing to offer them an alternative solution. Relations between Rabat and Abu Dhabi had been tense before the pandemic broke out, due to Morocco’s recent rapprochement with Qatar. UAE is one of a group of Gulf countries involved in a dispute with Qatar.

Some 80,000 foreigners have left Morocco on hundreds of flights since the crisis started, according to the report.

The Israeli tourists are currently staying in houses of members of the Jewish community in Casablanca and hotels in Marrakesh, which are being paid for by the Moroccan government, according to Army Radio.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, which has arranged dozens of special flights to numerous countries to repatriate thousands of Israelis, did not comment on the matter.

The Moroccan Jewish community has been hit hard by the virus, with about a dozen fatalities.

There are no direct flights connecting Israel and Morocco. Last month, an Israeli official participated in a security conference in Marrakesh, in another sign of warming ties between Jerusalem and Rabat, which have long maintained informal but close intelligence ties.

In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly attempted to arrange a three-way agreement by which the US would recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara territory, in exchange for Morocco taking steps to normalize relations with Israel.

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