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Northwest Territories

Israel says it intercepted rocket fired from Gaza Strip

BARCELONA, Spain: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez travels to Rabat with 12 ministers on Wednesday ahead of a meeting with Moroccan government officials. The visit is part of the European country’s strategy to mend historically complex ties with its neighbor across the Strait of Gibraltar.
It comes 10 months after Sánchez met Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and ended a diplomatic crisis that erupted in 2021 over Morocco’s disputed territory of Western Sahara. During that meeting, Sánchez declared “a new phase in bilateral relations” with Morocco, a key partner of the European Union in countering extremism and supporting the bloc’s policy on irregular migration.
Sánchez flies south again on Wednesday and will attend a forum of business leaders from both countries in Rabat. On Thursday he will sit down with Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, a billionaire businessman who won the 2021 election and is known as Mohammed VI. Nearby applies.
There is no further meeting on Sánchez’s agenda with the Moroccan king, with whom he shared the Iftar meal to break the fast last April during the Muslim month of Ramadan, as the culmination of their reconciliation.
Sánchez’s office said the prime minister instead held a phone call with the monarch, in which they agreed the meeting would “help cement this new era in Morocco-Spain relations”. It added that Sánchez had accepted the king’s invitation for another official visit to Rabat at an unspecified date.
Moroccans make up the largest expatriate community in Spain, at 800,000 people, and important economic links unite the neighbors, separated at the nearest point by just 13 kilometers (8 miles) of water.
But Spain-Morocco relations were severely damaged in May 2021 after Spain allowed the leader of the Polisario Front, which has led a low-intensity armed rebellion to secure Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco, to settle in Spain over COVID-19 -19 to get medical treatment.
Morocco responded by easing its border controls around Spain’s North African exclave of Ceuta, and thousands of people crossed the city. Tensions remained high until Sánchez reversed Spain’s longstanding position in Western Sahara by supporting Rabat’s proposal to give it more autonomy as long as it remains undeniably under Moroccan control. Madrid claims that the people of Western Sahara must decide their future by referendum.
Sánchez paid a heavy price for rapprochement with Morocco.
Its shift to Western Sahara angered Algeria, a supporter of the Polisario Front and a major supplier of natural gas to Spain. It was also widely criticized in Spain, which kept Western Sahara as a colony until 1975, and caused tensions within Spain’s ruling left-wing coalition between Sánchez’s Socialists and his junior partner. Politicians from across Spain have believed that Sánchez betrayed the Saharawi people of Western Sahara for very little tangible gain in return.
Now, Sánchez is looking to reap some benefits after returning to diplomatic normalcy last year.
This is the first meeting since 2015 where such a large delegation of ministries is represented. Sánchez is taking his ministers with him, who are responsible, among other things, for economy, energy, foreign policy, security and police, agriculture, trade, transport and migration.
Thursday’s meeting of governments is expected to yield several agreements between ministries and boost business growth, including the opening of customs offices at border crossings for Ceuta and its sister exclave of Melilla, which Morocco has never officially recognized as Spanish territory. Melilla’s customs office was closed by Morocco in 2018, while Ceuta never had one.
Spain is the largest foreign investor in Morocco and accounts for a significant portion of all foreign investment, making economic cooperation a top priority for the Moroccan government. Morocco is Spain’s third most important trading partner outside the EU after the United States and Great Britain.
Morocco, like Turkey and other countries in North Africa, has reaped economic benefits from the EU in exchange for curbing irregular immigration to Spain. That hasn’t stopped thousands of migrants and refugees, including young Moroccans seeking a brighter future in Europe, from undertaking a perilous Mediterranean crossing or a perilous Atlantic voyage to the Canary Islands.
Border police methods in both Spain and Morocco have come under intense scrutiny following the deaths of at least 23 African men, many of whom were reportedly Sudanese refugees, when they stormed a border fence near Melilla in June.
The human rights group Amnesty International protested outside the Spanish government headquarters in Madrid on Wednesday with cut-out silhouettes of the victims of the Melilla tragedy. The rights group takes the death toll to 37 and says 77 more people are still missing from the incident.
“Today’s summit between Morocco and Spain pretends to ignore what happened seven months ago,” said Esteban Beltrán, Amnesty International’s Spain director. “We want to remember that (the victims) are with us and we want to remember the suffering of their families, who have no information or real investigation into what happened.”

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