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Algeria announces closure of airspace to Morocco

Algeria Morocco diplomatic row   -  
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How far will the crisis between Algiers and Rabat continue?

The question comes as Algeria decided the "immediate" closure of its airspace to all Moroccan civilian and military aircraft and aircraft registered in Morocco. The decision came into force on Wednesday 22 September, according to a statement by the Algerian presidency.

The move was taken during a meeting of the High Security Council (HCS), chaired by the Head of State Abdelmadjid Tebboune, also Minister of Defense. and is devoted to the examination of "developments at the borders with the Kingdom of Morocco" -

It also comes one month after the announcement on August 24 by Algeria of the break of its diplomatic relations with Morocco, following months of heightened tensions between the two rival countries of the Maghreb.

Algeria's air borders, closed since March 17, 2020 due to the Covid-19 epidemic, only to be partially reopened on June 1 to seven countries, of which Morocco was not part. 

According to a source close to the national airline Air Algérie, there have been no direct commercial flights between Algeria and Morocco since that date. "Flights between the two countries have not resumed and Algerians traveling to Morocco transit through Tunis."

Algiers' decision will mostly affect Moroccan aircraft whose routes fly over Algerian territory in the immediate future. A source at Royal Air Maroc said the closure would only affect 15 flights weekly linking Morocco with Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt.

"Hostile practices"

After the announcement of the break in relations, the Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ramtane Lamamra, reproached Rabat for "never having stopped carrying out hostile actions against Algeria. "The Moroccan security services and propaganda are waging a despicable war against Algeria, its people and its leaders," he accused, without elaborating.

Though not always been the best, relations between Algeria and its western neighbor have deteriorated, mainly because of the thorny issue of the Western Sahara, a vast desert territory of which nearly 80% is under Moroccan control.

Then comes the normalization of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel - in return for U.S. recognition of Moroccan "sovereignty" over the Western Sahara - This has further heightened tensions with Algeria, a supporter of the Palestinian cause, which has denounced "foreign maneuvers" aimed at destabilizing it. 

Algiers has also accused Morocco and Israel of supporting the MAK (Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylia), a pro-independence organization, as well as the Islamo-conservative organization Rachad, two movements classified as "terrorist organizations" by Algeria.

Arm wrestling

The issue of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony considered a "non-self-governing territory" by the United Nations in the absence of a final settlement, has pitted Morocco against the Algerian-backed Polisario Front for decades.

Rabat is proposing an autonomy plan under its sovereignty, while the Polisario is calling for a UN-sponsored referendum on self-determination.

The break in relations was a decision that Algeria had to take in order to send the "appropriate message" to Morocco after "acts hostile to the sovereignty and unity of Algeria," Minister Lamamra said Tuesday on CNN International. 

This decision was "a civilized way to put an end to a situation that could not last any longer without causing damage and that risked leading the two countries towards an undesirable path," he said. It was an "abnormal situation that had to end anyway".

In a gesture of appeasement, Morocco's King Mohammed VI sent a message of "condolences and compassion" to President Tebboune on Saturday following the death of former Algerian head of state Abdelaziz Bouteflika, as well as to the family of the deceased.

Morocco has maintained that Algeria was unjustified in cutting ties and described its arguments as "fallacious and even absurd."

This is not the first time that the two countries have broken diplomatic ties. The first time was on March 7, 1976, at the initiative of Rabat, after Algiers recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), self-proclaimed by the Polisario Front.

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