UAE and Israeli clubs to play first friendlies since normalisation

UAE club Al-Ain will play Israel's Maccabi Haifa in two friendlies, the Emirati side said on Wednesday, the first such fixtures since the two countries normalised relations last year.

The announcement came during the virtual signing of a deal between the two clubs and follows the United Arab Emirates' landmark move to normalise relations with the Jewish state in August. They signed a formal deal in Washington in September.

"(The agreement) will consolidate the policy of bridge-building and cooperation between the two major clubs in various fields including marketing, technical cooperation, investment, commercial activities, media and sport," said Mohamed Thaaloob, chairman of the Al-Ain club investment company.

The clubs, two of the most successful in their respective leagues, also agreed to stage two friendlies, the first to be hosted by Al-Ain and the second to be held in Haifa at an unspecified future date, he added.

"I am pleased to witness this important moment in the history of the Israeli and Emirati game, and for sport in general," said Yaqoub Shahar, president of Maccabi Haifa Club.

In October the Emirati and Israeli football federations signed a cooperation agreement, a first between the two nations, intended to promote closer sporting ties.

A month before that agreement, Emirati club Al-Nasr signed Israeli player Diaa Saba, who is of Palestinian heritage, becoming the first Israeli player to sign for a club in an Arab league.

The Emirati move to normalise ties with Israel, followed by Gulf partner Bahrain, attracted accusations of "betrayal" from the Palestinians.

Last month, Sudan also signed the accords, becoming the third Arab country to do so and the fourth to normalise diplomatic relations with the Jewish state in as many months.

Morocco also normalised ties with Israel in December, in a diplomatic quid pro quo that saw Washington back Moroccan rule over the disputed region of Western Sahara.

Until last year, only Egypt, in 1979, and Jordan, in 1994, had normalised ties with Israel.