Telephone service begins between UAE and Israel as ties start to open

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Telephone service between the United Arab Emirates and Israel began working Sunday as the two countries opened diplomatic ties, part of a deal brokered by the U.S. that required Israel to halt its contentious plan to annex West Bank land sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

Associated Press 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.

FILE – In this Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020 file photo, the Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up with the flag of the United Arab Emirates as the UAE and Israel announced they would be establishing full diplomatic ties, in Tel Aviv, Israel. On Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020, telephone service between the UAE and Israel began as the two countries opened diplomatic ties. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

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

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

“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, like the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post and YNet, could be accessed without using 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 these 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 they were establishing full diplomatic relations in the U.S.-brokered accord.

The historic deal delivered a key foreign policy victory to President Donald Trump as he seeks re-election and reflected a changing Middle East in which shared concerns about archenemy Iran have largely overtaken traditional Arab support for the Palestinians.

Palestinians say it puts a just resolution of the Middle East conflict even farther out of reach by undermining an Arab consensus that recognition of Israel only come in return for concessions in peace talks. That removes a rare source of leverage for the Palestinians.

The agreement will make the UAE the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan, to have full, active diplomatic ties with Israel. The countries announced it in a joint statement, saying 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 a UAE company had signed an agreement with an Israeli company for research and study of the coronavirus pandemic.

The move has sparked anger among some who see it as a betrayal of longstanding efforts to establish an independent state of Palestinians. In Pakistan, hundreds of Islamists rallied Sunday to denounce the Emirati-Israeli deal. The Jamaat-e-Islami party chanted slogans against the United States and burned effigies of President Donald Trump. They also set ablaze American and Israeli flags.

The deal also has enraged Iran and Turkey, regional rivals to the UAE.

On Sunday, the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces called the UAE’s decision a “disaster.” Mohammad Hossein Bagheri urged Abu Dhabi to “revise” its position.

“If an incident happens in the Persian Gulf and violates the national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran, even a tiny bit, and we see it from the UAE, we will not tolerate it,” Bagheri said.

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Associated Press writers Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem, Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Asim Tanveer in Multan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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