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Middle East passports are least powerful in the world, global ranking finds

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Middle Eastern passports have ranked low on this year’s Henley Passport Index, which ranks the travel documents according to the number of destinations their holders can travel to without obtaining a visa prior to arrival.

Most states in the region remain in the bottom half of the quarterly index, with Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan locked in a race for the bottom spot.

The ranking also takes into account the purchase of visas on arrival, visitor’s permits, and an electronic travel authority (FTA).

Iraqi and Syrian passport holders have started the year with visa-free and visa-on-arrival travel to 28 and 29 countries respectively.

Somalia and Yemen are hovering merely two spots above with 33 destinations.

While Palestinian Territories, Libya, Sudan, Lebanon, Iran and South Sudan passports are hovering around the 40-destination mark.

Higher up the table, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, each boast between 51 and 71 visa-free destinations.

Several states including the UAE and Bahrain have gained one destination following their normalisation of ties with Israel late last year.

READ: Israel blogger makes ‘secret trip’ to Beirut

Only two countries in the region, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have broken into the top half of the index.

The UAE saw the biggest rise in this year’s passport index, climbing two places to 16th with the addition of two destinations.

The Gulf state signed several mutually reciprocated visa-waiver agreements last year, when travel and visa deals were at an all-time low.

The Emirati passport has leapt up the rankings in the last ten years, rising 29 places since 2010.

Emirati passport holders can now visit 171 countries visa-free.

Henley, however, has warned readers that rankings do not take into account pandemic-related restrictions which likely take precedence over visa information.

“Just a year ago all indications were that the rates of global mobility would continue to rise, that travel freedom would increase, and that holders of powerful passports would enjoy more access than ever before,” says Christian Kaelin, chair of Henley & Partners.

“The global lockdown negated these glowing projections, and as restrictions begin to lift, the results from the latest index are a reminder of what passport power really means in a world upended by the pandemic.”

The Henley rankings are based on data collected by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

READ: Erdogan says Turkey wants better ties with Israel, but ‘Palestine policy is our red line’

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Africa

Baghdad bombing sparks global condemnation

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Condemnations are pouring in from across the world over twin suicide bombings in Iraq’s capital Baghdad that killed at least 32 people and wounded 110 others.

The attack rocked a busy commercial market in Baghdad when two suicide bombers detonated explosives they were carrying near al-Tayaran Square, the Iraqi Health Ministry said.

The Turkish Embassy in Baghdad strongly condemned the bombing affirming Turkey’s stand with Iraq.

Turkey’s Ambassador in Baghdad Fatih Yildiz tweeted: “I strongly condemn the dehumanized groups that today showed their ugly face in Baghdad again after a long period of time.”

The Turkish diplomat prayed for the victims and wished quick recovery for the wounded, asserting that “Turkey, as usual, is always beside you.”

Iraq: Twin suicide bombings hit central Baghdad

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the bombing and offered condolences to the families of the victims, according to the official Wafa news agency.

“We stand in solidarity with Iraq, the president, the government and the people, as a result of the heinous terrorist act that targeted defenseless innocent people,” Abbas said.

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the bombing stressing support for Iraq in the face of everything threatening its security.

In a statement, the ministry spokesman, Dhaifallah Al-Fayez, described the bombing as a “cowardly terrorist act that aims to destabilize security and stability and contradicts with religious and humanitarian values ​​and principles.”

The Qatari Foreign Ministry also strongly condemned the bombing in the capital, Baghdad, reiterating Doha’s firm position on rejecting violence and terrorism, regardless of the motives and causes.

In a statement, the ministry offered condolences to the families of the victims and the government and people of Iraq, and wished the wounded a speedy recovery.

For its part, Egypt condemned the bombing, expressing its sincere condolences and sympathy to the brotherly Iraqi government and people for the victims of this “disgraceful act of terrorism”, and wished a speedy recovery for the injured.

Iraq DM warns of ‘civil war’ if attacks on diplomatic missions do not stop

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry affirmed in a statement that it “stands by brotherly Iraq in its endeavors to maintain security and stability and confront all forms of terrorism and extremism.”

Canada’s Ambassador in Baghdad Ulric Shannon strongly condemned the bombing describing it as a “disgusting event.”

“It is with great sadness and sorrow that I received the news of the terrorist attack in the Bab Al Sharqi region,” he said. “I wish the wounded a speedy recovery, mercy and forgiveness for the martyrs.”

The international coalition against ISIS (Daesh) called the Baghdad attack another example of terrorists killing Iraqis and harming those seeking peace.

It affirmed to continue its support for the Iraqi government to achieve security and stability.

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Morocco, Israel agree to launch direct flights

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Israel and Morocco inked an agreement Thursday to operate direct flights between their countries, according to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Anadolu Agency reported.

The daily reported the deal without disclosing additional details. Moroccan authorities have yet to comment.

It is the third aviation deal signed recently between Israel and Arab countries, after similar agreements with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain in recent months.

Former US President Donald Trump announced Dec. 10 that Morocco and Israel agreed to normalize relations.

Morocco became the fourth Arab country to agree to normalization with Israel in 2020, after the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.

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