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World News

Israeli minister says visit by UAE delegates under review as lockdown looms

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A first official visit to Israel by a United Arab Emirates delegation, provisionally planned for Sept. 22, may be postponed or conducted under restrictions given a looming coronavirus lockdown, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Friday.

The delegates were expected to come to Israel to reciprocate last week’s groundbreaking visit to Abu Dhabi by Israeli and U.S. envoys, a source familiar with the planning said.

Israeli officials have confirmed such a plan. The UAE has not.

Struggling against a surge of coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu’s pandemic taskforce on Thursday approved a national lockdown. It is expected to go into effect next week and span Jewish holidays that run from Sept 18 to Oct 10.

“To all appearances, this (UAE delegation visit) will either be postponed or a special modality will be required,” Israeli Science Minister Izhar Shay, whose ministry took part in the Abu Dhabi trip, told Tel Aviv radio station 102 FM.

“I reckon that they will also appreciate the fact we are protecting the health of the citizenry, and, if we are forced to postpone the delegation, will accept this with understanding.”

Israel has reported 146,542 coronavirus cases and 1,077 deaths.

Interviewed separately by the radio station, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish said it would be “unreasonable” for a UAE delegation to visit during a national lockdown in Israel.

Netanyahu and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan will sign the normalisation deal in Washington on Tuesday.

Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by William Maclean and Angus MacSwan

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