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Ashkenazi says he and UAE counterpart 'agreed to meet soon'

UAE foreign minister calls his Israeli counterpart to launch direct phone lines

Abu Dhabi authorities remove block on calls between countries, allow access to Israeli websites — including Times of Israel

United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan checks his phone during the 10th International Institute for the Strategic Studies in Manama, Bahrain,  December 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali/File)
United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan checks his phone during the 10th International Institute for the Strategic Studies in Manama, Bahrain, December 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali/File)

Telephone service between the United Arab Emirates and Israel began working Sunday, as the two countries started opening diplomatic ties under a breakthrough deal announced Thursday on normalized relations.

Journalists in Jerusalem and Dubai were able to call each other from both landline and cellular phones registered to Israel’s country code +972, from around 1:15 p.m.

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

Israel’s Foreign Ministry also confirmed the initiation of phone service with the UAE and that Ashkenazi had spoken with Al Nahyan.

The two ministers “jointly decided to establish a direct channel of communications between them, ahead of the signing of the normalization agreement between both countries, and agreed to meet soon,” Ashkenazi said in a statement.

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

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, June 10, 2020. (Foreign Ministry/courtesy)

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

Also Sunday, Israeli news websites that had previously been blocked by UAE authorities, including The Times of Israel, could be accessed without using intermediary means to bypass internet filtering in the Emirates.

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

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

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

Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced Thursday that they are establishing full diplomatic relations in the US-brokered accord, which also required Israel to halt its contentious plan to annex West Bank land sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (bottom left) at his office in Jerusalem on a phone call with UAE leader Mohammed Bin Zayed (bottom right) on August 13, 2020. (Above) US President Donald Trump. (Channel 12 screenshot)

The historic deal delivered a key foreign policy victory to US President Donald Trump as he seeks reelection and reflected a changing Middle East in which shared concerns about archenemy Iran have largely overtaken traditional Arab support for the Palestinians. Trump said a formal signing ceremony was expected in about three weeks.

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

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

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