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Saudi warms up to Israel; direct flights to start

May 23, 2023
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Tel Aviv: Saudi Arabia is likely to allow direct flights from Israel to ferry Muslim citizens for Haj next month, Foreign Ministry said here.

A ministry spokesman told the Tazpit Press Service that Israel was working to reach an agreement over the flights. Saudi approval for them would be another step forward in normalization between the nations.

Israel has issued a formal request for the flights and is awaiting the Saudi response, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said earlier this month.

Israel’s top diplomat said this weekend that normalization with Saudi Arabia could happen within six months.

Currently, Israelis who undertake the annual pilgrimage have to travel through third countries such as Jordan, incurring increased expenses on both the outbound and return journeys. About 18 percent of Israeli citizens are Muslim. Around 6,000 Israelis make the Haj each year.

Biden administration officials predicted last year that such flights would be arranged.

Saudi Arabia has allowed Israeli commercial planes to overfly its territory since the summer of 2022.

Israeli officials have noted that the confirmation could come next month at the eleventh hour, just before the pilgrimage begins.

The Haj, which is set to take place this year between June 26 and July 1, is a once-in-a-lifetime obligatory pilgrimage for all Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly voiced the hope of reaching a peace accord with Saudi Arabia, saying it would be a “quantum leap” for regional peace that would effectively end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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