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Israel's army chief to visit Morocco in first official trip

Aviv Kochavi will be the first Israeli chief of staff to visit the kingdom as ties strengthen between Morocco and Israel
Israeli Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi takes part in a candle lightning ceremony with Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem on 29 November 2021 (AFP)
Israeli army Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Aviv Kochavi in Jerusalem, 29 November 2021 (AFP)

Israeli army chief Aviv Kochavi will visit Morocco next week, in the first such visit by an Israeli military commander to the north African country, the Israeli army said on Saturday. 

The visit is part of growing cooperation between the two states since Morocco joined several Arab countries in normalising ties with Israel in December 2020, in a process supported by the administration of then-US President Donald Trump. 

Since the normalisation of bilateral relations, other Israeli officials have visited the Moroccan kingdom, including Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz last November and Interior Minister Aylet Shaket in June.

Israel and Morocco have also signed technological, security, military, economic and cultural partnership deals.  

In March, a delegation from the Israeli army made its first official visit to Morocco, which resulted in the signing of a military cooperation agreement, notably considering the creation of a joint military commission.

The Moroccan Ministry of Industry and Israel Aerospace Industries also signed a partnership agreement in the field of the civil aeronautics industry.

Israeli media reported that Kochavi will travel to Rabat on 18 July for a three-day trip.

The announcement came soon after US President Joe Biden left Israel on Friday for Saudi Arabia, where he took part in a regional summit with leaders from six Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq that focused on Iran, oil production, food security and partnership with Israel.

Key mediation role

In another sign of increased cooperation between Rabat and Tel Aviv, a senior US official told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Morocco had played a central role in Israel's decision to give Palestinians around-the-clock access to the Allenby Bridge border crossing connecting the West Bank and Jordan.

The move, which is set to go into effect by the end of September, was announced during Biden's visit to the occupied West Bank.

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Israeli officials said that Morocco had mediated discussions to ease hours of access to the Allenby Bridge crossing, the only land crossing with Jordan that Palestinians in the West Bank can use to travel abroad. 

For the past several months, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli had been working with Moroccan officials alongside US and Palestinian teams to keep the crossing open 24/7 rather than the more limited hours effective at present, according to the officials. Palestinians in the West Bank are not allowed to use Israeli airports.

The White House said that a working group will consider the establishment of a Palestinian Authority presence at the bridge "while maintaining Israel's security considerations," which would effectively be a much-delayed implementation of a section of the 1995 Oslo accords,  the Times of Israel reported.

The bridge between the West Bank and Jordan is known as al-Karameh Bridge by Palestinians, Allenby Bridge by Israelis and King Hussain Bridge by Jordanians.