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The New Arab

Bahrain sends first official delegation to Israel as Jerusalem tensions simmer

Jerusalem's status lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict [HadashotTV]

Date of publication: 10 December, 2017

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A Bahraini interfaith delegation has visited Israel amid widespread demonstrations and condemnation over Washington's controversial policy shift on Jerusalem.

A Bahraini interfaith delegation has visited Israel amid widespread demonstrations and condemnation over Washington's controversial plan to move its Israel capital to Jerusalem.

Two dozen members of a group called "This is Bahrain" arrived in the divided holy city this week, amid turmoil sparked by US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

"His Majesty King Hamad has sent us with a message of peace to all places around the world. The Shia in and outside Bahrain do not hold any animosity or hatred towards any faith or doctrine," Sheikh Fadil al-Jamri told local media on Saturday.

"We are visiting Jerusalem today with our message of peace and to see this historic religious site," Jamri said.

Members of the mixed Sunni-Shia delegation added that their trip - which is the first public visit to Israel by a Bahraini group - should be viewed as nonpolitical.

Trump's decision on Wednesday to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital has resulted in an overwhelming global diplomatic backlash.

Bahrain's foreign ministry has warned that the move "threatens the peace process in the Middle East and impedes all initiatives and negotiations" towards a lasting solution.

Bahrainis expressed anger online over the visit and voiced their support for Palestinians.

Jerusalem's status lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The trip also comes amid speculation that Bahrain could become the first Gulf states to normalise relations with Israel.

In September, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa reportedly said he has grown "tired" of Arab states' boycott of Israel and called for diplomatic ties to be established between the two countries.

He also told a leading US-based rabbi that Bahraini citizens were free to visit Israel.

Israel's ministry of foreign affairs tweeted in support of the unofficial report, before swiftly deleting the praise.

Last year, Bahrain hosted a delegation of US Jews at a ceremony to mark the Hanukkah holiday.

Bahrain's Sunni rulers have cracked down on all dissent on the Shia-majority island, imprisoning or forcing politicians and activists into exile. Bahrain also has a small native Jewish population on the island.

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