Benjamin Netanyahu cancels trip to UAE for third time over COVID-19 restrictions

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Feb. 4 (UPI) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed his trip to the United Arab Emirates a third time Thursday, citing COVID-19 flight restrictions.

Netanyahu had planned to visit the UAE and Bahrain next week to cement the normalization of diplomatic ties established under an agreement brokered by former President Donald Trump‘s administration and announced in September.

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However, on Thursday, his office announced his visit to UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi and Bahrain would be postponed amid Israel’s lockdown due to COVID-19, which placed restrictions on air travel and is set to expire on Sunday.

Israel has shut down Ben-Gurion Airport through Sunday, but the cabinet is set to meet later Thursday to discuss a policy extension.

“Despite the importance of the trip,” Netanyahu has decided to postpone “due to the closing of the skies,” his office said in a statement. “Prime Minister Netanyahu very much appreciates the invitations of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and the historic peace that has been established between our countries.”

The announcement marked the third time Netanyahu has postponed the UAE trip due to COVID-19-related restrictions and political developments in Israel.

Earlier this week Netanyahu said at a press conference the trip to Abu Dhabi and Bahrain would be shortened from a few days to a few hours each due to COVID-19 restrictions and a trip to Dubai would be scrapped.

Despite the air travel restrictions, private planes are still allowed to enter Israel and Greek Prime Minister Kiryakos Mitsotakis is expected to arrive as scheduled on Monday to sign an agreement for mutual recognition of vaccine certificates to possibly renew tourism between the two countries.