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In first for Gulf, UAE opens embassy in Israel, hails trade ties

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UAE Ambassador to Israel, Mohamed Al Khaja, and Israeli President Isaac Herzog shake hands during the opening ceremony of the Emirati embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

TEL AVIV, July 14 (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates on Wednesday become the first Gulf state to open an embassy in Israel, as its envoy hailed the trade and investment opportunities that closer ties would bring at a flag-raising ceremony also attended by Israel's president.

Brought together by shared unease about Iran, the UAE and Bahrain normalised relations with Israel last year under the "Abraham Accords" crafted by the administration of then-U.S. President Donald Trump

Sudan and Morocco have since also moved to establish ties with Israel.

The opening of the UAE embassy, which is situated in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, followed the inauguration of Israel's embassy in the UAE last month.

"Since the normalisation of ties ...we have seen for the first time discussions on trade and investment opportunities," UAE ambassador Mohamed Al Khaja said, after raising his country's flag outside the building.

"We signed major agreements across various fields, including economy, air travel, technology and culture."

Israeli President Isaac Herzog called the opening of the embassy "an important milestone in our journey towards the future, peace prosperity and security" for the Middle East.

"Seeing the Emirati flag flying proudly in Tel Aviv might have seemed like a far-fetched dream about a year ago," he said. "In many ways nothing could be more natural and normal."

In the UAE last month to inaugurate Israel's temporary embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said bilateral trade since normalisation exceeded $675 million and he expected more deals.

The regional rapprochement has been deplored by the Palestinians, who want their demands for statehood free of Israeli occupation addressed first.

The UAE has said last year's U.S.-brokered accords, which challenged a decades-old allegiance to Palestinian ambitions as a major driver of Arab policy, would ultimately benefit the Palestinians.

Reporting by Steven Scheer Editing by Jeffrey Heller and John Stonestreet

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