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

JERUSALEM, Sept 11 (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 are expected to come in reciprocation of last week’s groundbreaking Abu Dhabi visit by top 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 rolling national lockdown. The lockdown is expected to go into effect next week, following a cabinet vote on Sunday, and span major 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, one of whose top aides took part in the Aug 31 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.”

Netanyahu and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan will sign the normalisation deal at the White House on Tuesday. As a health precaution, Netanyahu and his family will fly to Washington on an executive jet, separate from an airliner chartered for the rest of the Israeli delegation, aides said.

Israel – population 9 million – has reported 146,542 coronavirus cases and 1,077 deaths.