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UAE leader visits Qatar for first time since start of Saudi-led blockade in 2017

Doha ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Than welcomes Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, who later in the day is set to meet with Israel’s Herzog back in Emirati capital Abu Dhabi

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, right, greats UAE president Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, upon his arrival at the Hamad airport in Doha, Qatar, December 5, 2022. (Qatar Amiri Diwan via AP)
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, right, greats UAE president Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, upon his arrival at the Hamad airport in Doha, Qatar, December 5, 2022. (Qatar Amiri Diwan via AP)

DOHA, Qatar — The United Arab Emirates president on Monday began his first visit to Qatar since the end of a nearly four-year regional blockade that put ties in the deep freeze.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was greeted by Qatar’s emir at the airport, officials said, in a trip that coincides with the ongoing football World Cup in Qatar.

It is the first state visit since January 2021, when a Saudi-led boycott of the gas-rich peninsula that started in June 2017 finally came to an end.

The visit, on the invitation of Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, “builds on the existing brotherly relations between the two nations and their people,” the UAE’s official WAM news agency said.

The UAE’s moves toward Qatar come as it also builds its relationship with Israel after normalizing relations with the Jewish state under the Abraham Accords of 2020.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog arrived in Abu Dhabi earlier Monday and was set to meet with his counterpart Al-Nahyan later in the afternoon.

Herzog came directly from Bahrain after making a historic first visit by an Israeli president to the country, which also opened diplomatic relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords.

President Isaac Herzog lands in Abu Dhabi, where he is greeted by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed, December 5, 2022. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

The first World Cup on Arab soil is taking place less than two years after Saudi Arabia and its allies the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt began to restore ties with Qatar, after cutting them in 2017 and blockading the Gulf country, claiming it supported extremists and was too close to Iran — allegations that Doha denied.

Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has already met the emir during the World Cup, where he was pictured wearing a Qatar football scarf.

Although it was the UAE president’s first visit since the blockade, ties have been gradually warming.

In May, the emir flew to Abu Dhabi for the funeral of Sheikh Khalifa, Sheikh Mohamed’s half-brother and predecessor as president.

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