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Israeli delegation cancels visit to Bahrain following public outcry

The skyline in Manama, Bahrain [The Washington Post via Getty Images]

Date of publication: 14 April, 2019

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An Israeli delegation has decided not to go ahead with a planned visit to Bahrain for a conference after public outcry.

An Israeli delegation has cancelled a planned visit to Bahrain for a conference this week after strong opposition from within the small Gulf state, the organisers said Sunday.

A spokeswoman for Israel's economy ministry said a scheduled visit to Bahrain this week by its head Eli Cohen had been "delayed because of political issues", Reuters reported.

The group - composed of approximately 30 Israeli businessmen and government officials - planned to participate in a congress in Bahrain organised by the US-based Global Entrepreneurship Network between 15 and 18 April.

Despite the government's push for normalisation with Israel, the mood in the island state is against such a move.

There have been minor protests against the visit in Bahrain's capital, where security is tightly controlled. A group of Bahraini lawyers petitioned a court to intervene and stop immigration authorities from granting visas to the Israeli delegation.

Many voiced their opposition on social media and Bahrain's parliament openly condemned the visit.

"Bahrain's parliament announces that the people of Bahrain rejects any Israeli presence on its territory and its lands and any decision allowing this presence is unacceptable," lawmakers said in a statement.

"While we advised the Israeli delegation they would be welcome, they decided this morning not to come due to security concerns and a wish not to cause disruption for the other 180 nations participating," Jonathan Ortmans, GEN president, said in a statement.

Three Israeli speakers allegedly were not able to obtain visas, a source told Reuters, while other delegation members "decided not to go".

The Bahraini government insists that the Israeli group was invited solely by GEN.

Israel has formal diplomatic relations with only two neighbouring Arab states - Egypt and Jordan. But Israel and Gulf countries have been developing their relations under the radar, united against their common enemy Iran.

Last year, Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid al-Khalifa backed Israel's right to "defend itself" after its military said it struck dozens of Iranian military targets in Syria.

Bahrain told Israel Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa secretly met with former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in 2017 and told her Manama wanted to normalise ties, an Israeli TV channel reported in February.

An Israeli cabinet minister visited Abu Dhabi last year and Oman hosted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last year - raising Palestinian fears of a normalisation of ties.

A top Omani government official said last week Arabs must take initiatives to make Israel overcome "fears for its future".

Agencies contributed to this report.

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