ALGERIA BREAKS OFF DIPLOMATIC TIES WITH NEIGHBORING MOROCCO

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Algeria formally broke off diplomatic relations with neighboring Morocco on Tuesday, with the foreign minister citing a series of alleged hostile acts.

The move culminates a period of growing tension between the North African countries which are mired in a decades-long feud, with their borders closed to each other. There was no immediate reaction from Morocco.

“Algeria has decided to break diplomatic relations with Morocco starting today,” Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said at a news conference, in which he read a statement from the president.

The announcement comes nearly a week after President Abdelmadjid Tebboune told a meeting of Algeria’s High Security Council that “incessant hostile acts perpetrated by Morocco have meant the need for a revision in relations between the two countries and the intensification of security checks” at the western borders with Morocco, the official APS news agency reported.

Both countries are allies of western nations, and the move risked complicating diplomacy in the region. Both are important in the fight against terrorism in the nearby Sahel region.

The Algerian foreign minister cited an accumulation of grievances against Morocco leading to Tuesday’s decision. The criticism ranged from reported remarks by Morocco’s U.N. ambassador in mid-July to recent comments by the Israeli foreign minister on an historic visit to Morocco as part of their normalization of ties.

“Morocco has turned its territory into a platform allowing foreign powers to speak with hostility about Algeria,” APS quoted Lamamra as saying. For the official news agency, he was alluding to a remark by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Morocco this month in which he referred among other things to Algeria’s effort to stop Israel from having observer status in the African Union.

“Since 1948, no Israeli official made a hostile declaration to an Arab country from another Arab country,” APS quoted Lamamra as saying.

Morocco’s U.N. ambassador allegedly said that the people of Algeria’s Berber region of Kabyle should have the right to determine their status. He also cited Algeria’s claims that Morocco backs a separatist group in Kabyle, known as MAK, which Algiers has placed on a terrorism list. Algeria has suggested that MAK had a role in wildfires this month in the Kabyle region that killed scores of people, including more than two dozen soldiers.

The issue of Kabyle recalls Algeria’s support for a bid by the Polisario Front, a pro-independence movement based in southern Algeria, for self-determination in the disputed Western Sahara that was annexed by Morocco in 1975.

Morocco wants autonomy for the region under its supervision, while Algeria wants self-determination via a referendum.

“For all these reasons, based on the facts … I have announced, Algeria has decided to break relations,” Lamamra said.

WHY DID ALGERIA CUT DIPLOMATIC TIES WITH MOROCCO?

Algeria has severed diplomatic relations with Morocco over alleged “hostile actions”, accusations the kingdom has dismissed as “absurd”.

But after months of bubbling tensions, what triggered the latest escalation between the North African rivals?

What is Israel’s role?

Algiers has long been at odds with Rabat — particularly over the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony Morocco sees as an integral part of its territory but where Algiers has supported the Polisario independence movement.

Their rivalry took a new twist last year when outgoing US president Donald Trump recognised Moroccan sovereignty over the territory — in exchange for Morocco normalising ties with Israel.

For Algeria, that amounted to Rabat “introducing a foreign military force into the Maghreb”, in the words of Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra on Tuesday.

Moreover, the administration of President Joe Biden has shown no sign of rolling back Trump’s decision.

“That’s disappointing for Algeria, which is mired in several major domestic crises and has few tools to influence outside events,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a North Africa researcher at Global Initiative.

So when Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid used a visit to Rabat this month to voice “worries” about Algeria’s regional role and it “getting close to Iran”, Algerian officials were outraged.

“Never since (Israel’s founding) has a member of an Israeli government been heard judging and messaging against an Arab state from the territory of another Arab state,” Lamamra said.

What triggered the bust-up?

With ties already more strained than usual, comments by a Moroccan diplomat expressing support for self-determination for Algeria’s traditionally restive Kabylie region earlier this month poured oil on the flames.

Last month, Algeria recalled its ambassador to Rabat for consultations after Omar Hilale’s comments.

And when forest fires ripped across northern Algeria earlier this month, killing at least 90 people, authorities were quick to blame the independence movement of the mainly Berber region — and accused Morocco of backing it.

Algerian authorities have also accused the Movement for Self-determination of Kabylie (MAK) of involvement in lynching a man falsely accused of arson during the recent forest fires, an incident that shocked Algerians.

They have accused the MAK, which Algiers classifies as a “terrorist organisation”, of receiving “the support and aid of foreign parties… Morocco and the Zionist entity”, referring to Israel.

The Paris-based MAK has rejected the accusations.

Critics say the authorities failed to prepare for the blazes.

How have Morocco, Israel responded?

In a statement on Tuesday, Morocco’s foreign ministry said Algiers’ move was “completely unjustified” but “expected given the logic of escalation seen in recent weeks”.

Rabat added that the decision to cut ties was based on “false, even absurd pretexts”.

As for Israel, a diplomatic official on Wednesday praised the Jewish state’s “very good” ties with Morocco and dismissed the Algerian claims as “unfounded”.

“Algeria should focus on all the problems it faces, especially its serious economic problems… instead of trying to hurt its neighbour and drag Israel into its conflicts,” the official told AFP.