Thursday, June 13, 2024

Israel says discussing possible direct Haj flights to S. Arabia

Israel has expressed hope that Saudi Arabia would allow direct flights for its Muslim citizens who want to make the Hajj pilgrimage, to start in June.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said on Wednesday that a request was submitted and “this issue is under discussion.”

“I cannot tell you if there is any progress,” he stated in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio, according to the Reuters news agency.

“But I am optimistic that we can advance peace with Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s predecessor, Yair Lapid, said in March that as prime minister in 2022, he had gotten Saudi consent for the direct flights. Saudi Arabia has not confirmed this.

Muslims from Israel and Palestine currently travel to Saudi Arabia through a third country. Since 2020, Saudi Arabia has allowed Israeli airlines to use its airspace to fly to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, countries with which it has normalised relations.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have no diplomatic ties, but the two have been making incremental progress towards normalising them since 2020 as part of a US-sponsored push for Israel to reconcile with its Persian Gulf neighbours.

Several thorny issues have impacted this progress.

Saudi Arabia has insisted that Palestinian goals for statehood should be addressed first. The kingdom currently does not recognise Israel as a state.

Meanwhile, the United States and Israel have been uneasy with Riyadh’s recent thawing of relations with Iran.

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