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Israeli travelers arrive in Dubai. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

A remark by Israel’s chief epidemiologist suggesting the opening of direct flights from Dubai to Tel Aviv had led to COVID-19 deaths in Israel resulted in diplomatic protests from the UAE, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Direct flights were one of the main fruits of the Israel-UAE peace treaty, and around 130,000 Israeli tourists have taken advantage by flying to Dubai since December.

Israel’s chief epidemiologist, Sharon Alroy-Preis, remarked in a Zoom briefing to hospital directors earlier this week that “more Israelis died in two weeks of peace with Dubai than in 70 years of war with Dubai."

  • She was essentially criticizing the Israeli government, which opted against halting flights even when many Israelis tested positive after returning from Dubai.
  • Her remarks were published by Israel's Channel 13 and later reached Abu Dhabi.

Emirati officials interpreted them as an accusation that the UAE was responsible for Israel's high infection rate and called the prime minister's office to protest, Israeli officials tell me.

  • They expressed surprise that such a senior Israeli health official would speak in such terms.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s advisers apologized for the remarks and stressed that Israel doesn’t hold the UAE responsible in any way for the rise in cases and deaths.

The big picture: The Israeli Ministry of Health wanted to halt flights from Dubai several weeks ago but was overruled by Netanyahu's office and the Foreign Ministry, which were concerned such a step would damage the new relationship with the UAE.

  • Eventually, all flights to Israel were stopped, including from Dubai.
  • According to Israeli Ministry of Health assessments, more than 900 Israelis who traveled to Dubai subsequently tested positive, infecting an estimated 4,000 contacts in Israel.

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - World

Biden turns the page on Trump's Israel-Palestine policies

Biden with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2010. Photo: David Furst/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration laid out its Israel-Palestine policy at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, highlighting the importance of repairing ties with the Palestinian Authority.

Driving the news: According to the new policies, the U.S. will resume aid to the Palestinians and reopen the PLO office in Washington and the consulate in Jerusalem.

4 hours ago - World

In photos: Protests in U.S., across the world over Israeli–Palestinian conflict

A protest march in support of Palestinians near the Washington monument in Washington, D.C. on May 15. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Thousands of people rallied across the U.S. and the world Saturday following days of violence in Gaza and Israel that's killed at least 145 Palestinians, including 41 children, and eight Israelis, per AP.

The big picture: Most demonstrations were in support of Palestinians. There were tense scenes between pro-Israeli government protesters and pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Winnipeg, Canada, and Leipzig, Germany, but no arrests were made, CBS News and DW.com report.

Updated 12 hours ago - World

Biden in call with Netanyahu raises concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

President Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday and raised concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza and the bombing of the building that housed AP and other media offices, according to Israeli officials.

The big picture: At least 140 Palestinians, including dozens of children, have been killed in Gaza since fighting between Israel and Hamas began Monday, according to Palestinian health officials. Nine people, including two children, have been killed by Hamas rockets in Israel.