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media captionJared Kushner: “A new script for a new Middle East”

The first commercial flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates has landed, a major step in normalising relations after the announcement of a peace deal.

The El Al airliner made the three-hour trip, carrying a delegation of Israeli and US officials.

The flight was allowed to cross Saudi Arabian airspace, normally blocked to Israeli air traffic.

The UAE has become only the third Arab country in the Middle East to recognise Israel since its founding in 1948.

On Saturday, the UAE repealed a law boycotting Israel which had been in place since 1972, and earlier this month the two countries opened direct telephone services for the first time.

The agreement to normalise relations – brokered by the US – was made public in a surprise announcement on 13 August.

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Flight LY971 – numbered to represent the UAE’s international dialling code – carried delegates including Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat.

image copyrightEPA

image captionThe El Al plane was decorated with the word for “peace” in Arabic, English and Hebrew

Mr Kushner led secret talks which resulted in the agreement between Israel and the UAE, a federation of seven Arab monarchies in the Gulf, including Dubai.

Speaking to the media after landing in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, Mr Kushner described the deal between the countries as a “historic breakthrough” and said it was a “tremendous honour” to have joined the flight.

“What happened here was three great leaders came together and they started writing a new script for the Middle East. They said the future doesn’t have to be predetermined by the past,” he said

The joint teams will meet Emirati representatives to develop areas of co-operation between Israel and the UAE. The return flight will be numbered LY972, after Israel’s international dialling code.

Monday’s three-hour flight has taken more than 70 years to make, and it marks a new turning point in relations between Israel and the Arab world.

There are big prizes for all three players: Israel’s historic need to boost regional recognition of the Jewish state (could Saudi Arabia one day do so too?); the Emiratis’ glittering finance hubs can benefit from open links with the region’s security and cyber superpower; while a US president under pressure at home gets to tout his role as peacemaker in the Middle East.

These are truly significant achievements and further shift the dynamics in a deeply polarised region. But the deal is striking for another reason – it leaves the Palestinians feeling as sidelined as ever.

They believe it breaks years of Arab solidarity – and leverage – against Israel’s occupation of land they want for a future state; while ordinary Palestinians feel more and more hemmed in as Israeli settler numbers grow.

They see not only betrayal, but a blind eye being turned by the Emiratis to their reality on the ground.

In a tweet in Hebrew, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the advent of the flight as an example of “peace for peace” – alluding to his long-held disbelief in the notion that only trading occupied land will bring peace between Israel and Arab countries.

While it was welcomed by much of the international community, the UAE’s recognition of Israel without the precondition of the creation of a Palestinian state was denounced by the Palestinians as a betrayal of their cause.

In return for official relations with the UAE, Mr Netanyahu agreed to suspend controversial plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank – land claimed by the Palestinians for a future state of their own.

media captionIsrael annexation: What is the West Bank?

Mr Kushner on Monday said his message to Palestinians was “one of hope”.

“We’ve put an offer to their leadership on the table that will enable them to have a state and self-determination and an economic plan that could revitalise their economy, but we can’t want peace more than they want peace and so when they are ready the whole region is very excited to help lift them up and move them forward but they can’t be stuck in the past,” he said.

“Peace will be ready for them and opportunity will be ready for them as soon as they’re ready to embrace it.”

Palestinian officials have condemned the deal, saying it undermines their struggle for an independent state.

“Peace is not an empty word used to normalise crimes and oppression,” Saeb Erekat, a leading figure in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said on Monday.

“Peace is the outcome of justice. Peace is not made by denying Palestine’s right to exist,” he added.

A US peace proposal unveiled in January holds out the prospect of a Palestinian state, as well as a $50bn (£37.5bn) investment plan for the Palestinians, though the Palestinians have rejected the proposal as heavily biased towards Israel.

Before the UAE, Egypt and Jordan were the only other Arab countries in the Middle East to officially recognise Israel, after signing peace treaties in 1978 and 1994 respectively.

Mauritania, a member of the Arab League in north-west Africa, established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999 but severed ties in 2010.

Related Topics

  • United Arab Emirates

  • Israel
  • Air travel



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Turkey earthquake: Search for survivors continues

The search for survivors in Izmir, Turkey continues after a

powerful earthquake on Friday.

Work continued through the night to search for survivors in buildings that were destroyed as a result of the earthquake.

Around 100 survivors have been pulled out alive from the rubble so far, Turkey’s Environment and Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum told reporters.

However many people are still trapped and aftershocks have hampered rescue workers.

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Poland’s biggest protests in decades stand against abortion ban

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Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski said more than 100,000 people were in attendance, while protest organizers put the figure at 150,000.

Police detained 37 people Friday evening, the vast majority of whom were football hooligans, Sylwester Marczak, spokesman for the Warsaw Police headquarters, said Saturday morning. Taking into account the huge number of participants, it was a “very peaceful” protest, he added.

Demonstrations of this scale were last seen in the Solidarity movement of the 1980s in Poland which led to the collapse of the government, analysts say.

The protest in Warsaw was the culmination of nine days of nationwide protests since a court ruling on October 22 deemed abortion due to fetal defects to be unconstitutional. This meant abortion in Poland would only be legal in two scenarios — if the pregnancy threatened the mother’s life and health, or if a woman became pregnant following rape or incest.

Demonstrators also turned out in Gdańsk, Białystok, Poznan, Kraków, Wroclaw, Torun, Sczescin, Myślenice, Gorlice and Jasło on Friday.

According to local media, 430,000 people attended more than 400 demonstrations across the country against the ban on Wednesday. Online supporters are using the tag #ThisIsWar to show solidarity with those marching.

Polish women disrupt church services in protest at abortion ban

The protests have been taking place in defiance of a ban on gatherings of more than five people due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Aerial footage of the demonstration in Warsaw posted to social media showed the vast scale of the turnout there on Friday evening.

Protest organizers urged protesters to make their way towards the residence of Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the leader of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party Leader (PiS) who is widely seen as the de facto decision maker in Poland. The demonstration ended there at around 11 p.m. local time and organizers urged protesters to make their way home safely.

Kaczyński on Wednesday called the protesters “criminals” and said people taking part in mass gatherings were endangering people’s lives given the surge in coronavirus cases in Poland.

Thousands of protesters march towards the residence of ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski during the demonstration Friday in Warsaw.

Draft amendment

In an apparent softening of his stance, Polish President Andrzej Duda on Friday submitted a draft amendment to the controversial law which would legalize abortion in situations where the baby has “lethal defects” and would die soon after birth.

The amendment would mean abortion would remain legal in an event where “prenatal tests or other medical indications indicate a high probability that the child will be born still or burdened with an incurable disease or defect that will lead to the death of the child inevitably and directly,” according to a statement from Duda on Friday.

“It is an extremely delicate and painful situation for every mother, for every parent. In the case of lethal defects, the death of the child is inevitable. The protection of his life is therefore beyond human power,” the statement also said.

Duda had earlier clarified his stance on abortion in such cases in an interview with Polish radio station RMF FM. “You must clearly ask yourself whether anyone has the right to demand, or the law may require such a woman to… bear such a child in her womb and then bear the entire physical cost of birth,” Duda said.

Duda added that he did not think abortion should be legal in situations where a child has Down syndrome, for example, and the life of the unborn child is not at risk.

Poland moves to near-total ban on abortion, sparking protests

The ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal removed one of the few remaining grounds for legal termination in the country, which already had some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe.

Abortions due to fetal defects comprised approximately 98% of all legal abortions carried out in Poland in 2019, according to data from the Polish Ministry of Health.

Asked about the ongoing protests across Poland over the controversial court ruling, Duda condemned the demonstrators who disrupted church services earlier this week.

“If we are talking about acts of physical or verbal aggression, if we are talking about invading churches, if we are talking about insulting religious feelings, profaning places of worship, I am sorry, but the boundaries are definitely exceeded here,” he said.

Abortion rights protest leaders have accused the populist PiS party of pushing the court to tighten abortion restrictions in order to please the party’s base, and the Church. Church leaders have denied influencing the change in law.

Covid warning

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Friday urged protesters not to go out on the streets as he announced further steps to try to limit the spread of Covid-19.

“I understand your anger, but I urge you to stay at home, especially for the sake of seniors,” he said.

The measures include closing cemeteries for three days, urging business owners to allow employees to work from home and urging older citizens to remain at home.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told Polish news channel TVN24 on Friday that he looked with “great concern” at the protests and urged people to isolate themselves from those taking part, saying they could be more exposed to Covid-19.

On Friday, Poland recorded 21,629 new coronavirus cases, marking another record high in the country, where case counts have tripled in less than a month. A further 202 deaths were also reported by the Polish Health Ministry, with the total number of confirmed infections in the country surpassing 340,000.

CNN’s Zahid Mahmood contributed to this report.

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Coronavirus: Hungary and Poland see record cases

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Greece is the latest country to announce a partial lockdown, with restaurants and other leisure activities closed in major Greek cities from Tuesday. “We must act now, before intensive care units buckle under the strain of lives in danger,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Saturday. Greece has not seen as many cases as other parts of Europe, but there has been a steady increase since early October

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