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Israel hopes for rapprochement with fifth Muslim country before Trump exit - minister

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is working towards formalising relations with a fifth Muslim country, possibly in Asia, during U.S. President Donald Trump’s term, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Wednesday.

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The White House has brokered rapprochements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco this year. Rabat hosted an Israeli-U.S. delegation on Tuesday to flesh out the upgrade in relations.

Asked if a fifth country could sign up before Trump steps down on Jan 20, Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis told Israel’s Ynet TV: “We are working in that direction.”

“I believe ... there will be an American announcement about another country that is going public with the normalisation of relations with Israel and, in essence, with the infrastructure for an accord - a peace accord,” he said.

Administration officials have said they are trying to get more countries to recognise Israel or warm existing ties to it.

Akunis said there were two main candidate countries to become the next to move towards normal ties with Israel.

He did not name either but said one is in the Gulf and could be Oman but would not be Saudi Arabia. The other, further to the east, is a “Muslim country that is not small” but is not Pakistan, Akunis said.

Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, said last week it would not recognise Israel as long as Palestinian statehood demands remain unmet. Malaysia has signalled a similar policy.

“Malaysia’s firm stance on the Palestinian issue will not change,” Deputy Foreign Minister Kamarudin Jaffar told the country’s senate on Wednesday, adding that Kuala Lumpur would not interfere in other nations’ decisions on Israel.

In Dhaka, a foreign ministry official said Bangladesh was not interested in establishing diplomatic ties with Israel. “Our position remains the same,” he told Reuters.

Oman has praised the U.S.-brokered diplomatic drive but has not commented on its own prospects of forging Israel ties.

The Palestinians, whose negotiations with Israel stalled in 2014, fear being sidelined by the normalisation process.

Additional reporting by Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur and Rula Paul in Dhaka; Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Timothy Heritage

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