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Covid travel ban hits Netanyahu trip to Bahrain and UAE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday postponed a planned visit to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, citing travel restrictions imposed in the battle against coronavirus.

“Despite the importance of the trip to Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to postpone the visit at this stage due to the closing of the skies,” an English language statement from the premier’s office said. It did not mention a new date.

A Netanyahu spokesman had written Wednesday on Twitter that the premier would visit the UAE and “perhaps Bahrain” next week.

The two states normalised relations with Israel in a US-backed accord last year.

The planned trip would have been Netanyahu’s first official visit to the Gulf countries since the September signing.

As part of a national coronavirus lockdown, Israel last month banned international flights and closed its land borders.

The closure is due to expire on February 7, but members of Netanyahu’s government were to meet on Thursday to debate a possible extension of “closed skies” and other lockdown measures.

Netanyahu has said the travel ban is a necessary weapon in the “arms race” against coronavirus variants.

Israel has registered over 670,000 coronavirus cases, including close to 5,000 deaths.

It has given at least one of the two required doses of Pfizer-made vaccine to more than three million people, with about two million getting the second shot — a pace widely described as the world’s fastest per capita.

Israel hopes to vaccinate its entire over-16 population by the end of March.