Israel has been granted official observer status at the African Union, officials said Thursday, a goal the country's diplomats have been working towards for nearly two decades.
Israeli ambassador Aleli Admasu presented his credentials Thursday to Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, at AU headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, according to statements from both sides.
"This is a day of celebration for Israel-Africa relations," Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid said in a statement from his office.
Observer status would enable Israel to further help the AU in fights against the coronavirus pandemic and terrorism on the continent, the statement said.
Israel previously held observer status at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but was long thwarted in its attempts to get it back after the OAU was disbanded in 2002 and replaced by the AU.
"This corrects the anomaly that has existed for almost two decades and is an important part of strengthening the fabric of Israel's foreign relations," Lapid said.
"It will help us strengthen our activities on the African continent and with the member states of the organisation."
Israel currently has relations with 46 African countries "and has wide ranging partnerships and joint cooperation in many different fields including trade and aid," Lapid's statement said.
Palestine already has observer status at the AU, and Israeli diplomats have smarted at recent AU statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In May Faki condemned Israeli "bombardments" in the Gaza Strip as well as "violent attacks" by Israeli security forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, saying the Israeli army was acting "in stark violation of international law."
Pro-Palestinian language is typically featured in statements delivered at the AU's annual summits.
Faki used the 2020 summit to denounce then-US President Donald Trump's peace plan for the Middle East, drawing applause in the AU's main hall when he said it "trampled on the rights of the Palestinian people".
In his statement Thursday Faki underlined that the AU "has been very clear on its position that in the issue of Palestine and Israel, a Two State Solution is necessary for a peaceful co-existence."
Faki's spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo said there are more than 70 non-African embassies and non-governmental organisations currently accredited to the AU.