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Tel Aviv city hall lit up in the colors of the UAE. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

The United Arab Emirates on Sunday unblocked Israeli websites and direct international phone lines with Israel in a first step following the U.S.-brokered normalization deal announced last week, Israeli officials said.

Why it matters: The U.S. and Israel have tried for years to get the UAE and other Gulf states to establish direct phone service. The Obama administration asked the UAE to do so in support of special envoy George Mitchell’s peace initiative and again during Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative, but the UAE refused.

Between the lines: This move was in the works for several weeks and was pushed by Israel foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Israeli officials told me. Officials see it as a positive sign that the UAE wants to move quickly in turning the normalization announcement into practical steps.

  • Ashkenazi spoke Sunday with his Emirati counterpart Abdullah Bin Zayed to inaugurate the opening of direct phone services.
  • The UAE foreign ministry said both ministers stressed their commitment to implementing the normalization deal. The Israeli foreign ministry said Ashkenazi and Bin Zayed agreed to establish a channel of communication and meet as soon as possible.

The fact that the phone call was made public is also important.

  • Previous Israeli foreign ministers had a relationship with their Emirati counterparts, but their phone calls were kept secret and were even placed under a gag order by Israeli military censors.
  • This is the first time both Israel and the UAE have issued press statements about the phone call.

Go deeper: How the Israel-UAE deal came together

Go deeper

Updated Nov 24, 2020 - World

Tracking Biden's first calls to world leaders

Combination images of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and President-elect Joe Biden. Photo: NZ Prime Minister's Office/Instagram/Joe Raedle/Getty Images

One ritual of becoming president-elect is the carousel of congratulatory phone calls with other world leaders.

What to watch: The order in which the calls are returned is watched closely around the world.

Updated 1 hour ago - Sports

Simone Biles won't compete in individual vault or uneven bars Olympic finals

Photo: Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images

Simone Biles will not compete in the individual vault or uneven bars finals at the Tokyo Olympics, USA Gymnastics announced Friday.

Why it matters: USA Gymnastics said Biles, who previously withdrew from the individual all-around and team finals to prioritize her mental health, will continue to be evaluated to determine if she'll compete in the balance beam or floor exercise events.

1 hour ago - Sports

American Katie Ledecky wins Olympic gold in women's 800m freestyle

USA's Katie Ledecky reacts after taking gold in the final of the women's 800m freestyle race. Photo: Odd Anderson/AFP via Getty Images

American superstar swimmer Katie Ledecky grabbed her second gold medal of this year's Olympic Games, winning the women's 800-meter freestyle race Saturday in Tokyo.

Driving the news: Ledecky, who holds the world record in the 800m freestyle, is considered one of the best women swimmers of all time. Saturday's final marks her third straight Olympic gold in the event.

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