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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 November 2018

Israeli cultural minister visits Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Miiri Regev says she was invited by an official representative of the UAE

Israeli sports and culture minister Miiri Regev visited Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on Sunday.

Pictures of Ms Regev at the mosque, dressed in an abaya and loosely covering her hair, drew much attention on social media. In a Facebook post, accompanying a video of her being given a tour of the premises, Ms Regev said she was invited to visit the mosque by "an official representative of the UAE".

"Ending a moving and powerful visit to Abu Dhabi that brought a lot of respect and pride to the State of Israel," she said.

"I am glad that I was privileged to be the first senior Israeli figure to sign the guest book at the mosque. I chose to do so in Hebrew, out of a message of brotherhood and hope for peace between peoples."

Ms Regev is paying a rare visit to the country as part of the Israeli delegation accompanying Judo athlete Sagi Muki, who was competing in the Judo Grand Competition in Abu Dhabi.

On Sunday, Muki defeated Matthias Casse of Belgium to win the gold medal. As he took the stand, the Israeli national anthem was played in the UAE for the first time, while Ms Regev openly wept.

“We made history. The people of Israel live!” she said on social media.

Israel and the UAE do not have diplomatic relations and, last year, Israeli athletes had to compete as representatives of the International Judo Federation and without any Israeli symbols after the UAE cited security concerns.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu was quick to seek political benefit from the sporting event and congratulated the Judo athlete on Sunday, tweeting: "Everyone is moved by this honour and pride. It is not only your personal achievement and the Jewish achievement of Israeli sports, but also the fact that the anthem was being played in Abu Dhabi.

"You know that I was recently in the area, not far away. Sagi, you are also contributing to Israel's diplomatic effort in the Arab world," Mr Netanyahu said, referring to his visit to Oman on Friday.

Mr Netanyahu met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said in a move described by a senior Omani foreign ministry official as a bid to “resuscitate” peace talks in the Middle East. His was the first visit of its kind since 1996.

His arrival in Muscat followed a visit by Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas earlier in the week. The visits of both leaders were at the invitation of Sultan Qaboos.

Israel's Minister of Intelligence and Transportation Yisrael Katz will visit Oman next week.