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UAE defends Israel ties as Gaza war concerns grow

Lana Nusseibeh, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United Nations, says her country is proud of 'talking to the people who disagree with us' (Michael M. Santiago)
Lana Nusseibeh, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United Nations, says her country is proud of 'talking to the people who disagree with us' (Michael M. Santiago)

A top Emirati diplomat on Monday defended her country's decision to maintain ties with Israel despite its mounting concern over the war in Gaza.

The United Arab Emirates and Israel established diplomatic ties in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords, making it one of the few Arab countries to recognise Israel.

Despite maintaining its ties with Israel since the Israel-Hamas war began in October, the UAE has been at pains to express solidarity with Palestinians as anger mounted in the Arab world over the conflict.

Speaking at the World Governments Summit, an annual gathering of business and political leaders in Dubai, Lana Nusseibeh pointed out the benefits of cooperation with Israel.

"Because of that cooperation... we have a field hospital in Gaza and we have a maritime hospital docking in the Al-Arish port," in Egypt, said Nusseibeh, the UAE's ambassador to the UN.

For the "residents of Gaza, it's not enough. What we need... is a humanitarian ceasefire and a two-state solution," she added.

"Will we get that by talking to the people who agree with us? No. We will get that by talking to the people who disagree with us and the UAE will always be proud of doing that."

The bloodiest ever war in the Gaza Strip began when Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and responded with a relentless offensive in Gaza that the territory's health ministry says has killed at least 28,340 people, mostly women and children.

In recent days, the UAE joined several Arab Gulf states in warning Israel against launching an offensive on the city of Rafah in the extreme south of the Gaza Strip, where around 1.4 million people have sought refuge.

"The UAE is extremely worried at this point," Nusseibeh said.

"Any military operation in Rafah would have unacceptable consequences," the diplomat added.

Nusseibeh, who organised an unofficial visit for UN envoys to the Rafah crossing last year, called for a two-state solution, arguing that it is critical for the reconstruction of Gaza.

"You cannot deny the Palestinian right to statehood, and that is an Arab consensus," she said.

"There must be an irreversible progression to the two-state solution for regional partners to be on board with the reconstruction (of Gaza)".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown no interest in reviving negotiations toward a Palestinian state.

Nusseibeh added that the UAE had committed billions of dollars to development projects in both Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank over the past three decades.

But "we cannot keep refunding and then seeing everything that we have built, destroyed," she said.

"We need to see a series of confidence building measures, including with the Israelis,"  Nusseibeh added.

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