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Netanyahu to visit UAE Thursday, may meet Saudi crown prince - Israel's Kan

by Reuters
Wednesday, 10 March 2021 18:14 GMT

(Adds Saudi no-comment)

JERUSALEM, March 10 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit the United Arab Emirates on Thursday and may meet the Saudi crown prince there in an opportunity to showcase new Gulf ties before a closely contested election in Israel, its public broadcaster Kan said.

The report was not immediately confirmed by Netanyahu's office or by the UAE. Kan said Netanyahu would hold talks with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman might join them.

The Saudi government communication office CIC did not immediately respond to a Reuters query on whether Crown Prince Mohammed would be visiting the UAE on Thursday and if he would meet with Netanyahu.

Israel established formal relations with the UAE and Bahrain last September - only its third and fourth normalisation deals with Arab states in over 70 years - as part of a U.S.-brokered agreement. The three countries share common concerns about Iran.

Saudi Arabia, a Gulf powerhouse and Islam's birthplace, encouraged the rapprochement but has stopped short of recognising Israel itself.

It was not immediately clear if Netanyahu, on what Israeli media said would be a one-day visit, would also go to Bahrain, as he had planned to do during a previously scheduled one-day trip to the Gulf in February which he postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.

Netanyahu, running in politically polarised Israel's fourth election in two years largely on his role in its rapid COVID-19 vaccination programme, has also made his drive to forge new relations in the Gulf region a centrepiece of his campaign.

Israeli tourists and business executives flocked to the UAE before a national lockdown in Israel largely closed its main international airport, in Tel Aviv, in late January. Restrictions were eased on Sunday.

In an interview with Israeli Army Radio on Tuesday, Netanyahu called on voters to re-elect him on March 23 so that he could achieve "more peace agreements" in the area, while ensuring that Iran "doesn't arm itself with nuclear weapons".

Iran denies its nuclear programme is aimed at developing atomic weaponry. (Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Dan Williams and Ghaida Ghantous Editing by Rami Ayyub, Mark Heinrich and Nick Macfie)

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