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Israel's foreign minister in first high-level visit to Bahrain

Yair Lapid is set to open the Israeli embassy and sign cooperation deals with Manama
Flags of Israel and Bahrain are seen on a plane of Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at Bahrain International Airport in Muharraq, Bahrain, 30 September 2021 (Reuters)

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid flew to Manama on Thursday, becoming the highest-level Israeli official to visit Bahrain since the countries established formal relations last year.

Lapid landed in the Bahraini capital in an Israir plane with an olive branch painted on its nose. He is set to inaugurate Israel’s embassy in Manama and hold talks with the Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani.

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An Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson said five memorandums of understanding (MOU) will be signed, including cooperation agreements between hospitals and water and power companies.

"The main areas in which Bahrain is looking for cooperation have to do with the economy and technology, and a few of the MOUs that will be signed (on Thursday) will be about that," the spokesperson said, without elaborating.

He also said 12 memorandums of understanding have so far been signed between the two countries, among them deals relating to transportation, agriculture, communication and finance.

Bahrain's Gulf Air is due to make its first direct commercial flight to Tel Aviv later in the day.

A Bahraini Gulf Air plane took off from Manama airport, just over an hour after Lapid arrived in Bahrain, on its first direct commercial flight to Tel Aviv.

"We see Bahrain as an important partner, on the bilateral level but also as a bridge to cooperate with other countries in the region," the Israeli spokesperson said.

In Gaza, the Hamas movement group criticised Bahrain for hosting Lapid.

Hamas spokespersoon Hazem Qassem said this represented "an encouragement" of what he described as Israeli "crimes against our Palestinian people and their sacred sites".

Bahrain was among four Arab countries to normalise relations with Israel last year, including the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco, in US-brokered deals that Palestinians have condemned as a betrayal to the Palestinian cause.