Sat, 19 Sep 2020

Flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia being planned, says Israeli PM

By Jay Jackson, Colorado State News.Net
20 Feb 2020, 09:15 GMT+10

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is having discussions about the implementation of direct flights from Tel Aviv, to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, one of Islam's holiest sites and the birthplace of its founder Muhammad.

The flights are being organized so Israeli Muslims can make the Hajj pilgrimage.

The Israeli prime minister posted an announcement about the proposed flights on Facebook.

"We are working to create direct flights from Tel Aviv to Mecca for the benefit of Muslim pilgrims who are fulfilling the Hajj," he said, according to a report by Maariv.

The post was written in Arabic as well as Hebrew.

Within minutes of being posted however the post was deleted.

According to The Jerusalem Post, 124 Israeli Muslims made the pilgrimage in 2018 by being issued with temporary passports by Jordan. However Saudi Arabia has since said it will only accept regular passports.

Israeli passports are not accepted at any Arab country, other than Jordan and Egypt which have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Member of the Israeli Knesset Ahmed Tibi, the leader of the Arab Movement for Change, was critical of Netanyahu, describing the Facebook post as a "Bibi-lie."

"Is there anything more pitiful than Netanyahu attempting to win Arab votes by the lie of helping pilgrims?" he asked, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The Israeli prime minister in recent years has said Israel has increasingly close ties with moderate Sunni Arab countries and that it is only a matter of time before they recognize Israel.

Only two direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia taken taken place. The last one was in May 2017, and the main passenger on board was U.S. President Donald Trump. The historic flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv took place on Air Force One. The other direct Israeli-Saudi flight was in May 2008 when former U.S. President George W.Bush flew on Air Force one from Tel Aviv to Riyadh.

Then-Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara in May 2017, at the time of the historic Trump flight, told Bloomberg News he was working hard on developing direct Tel Aviv-Mecca flights. "Reality has changed," Kara said. "This is a good time to make the request, and I'm working hard on it." He said negotiations were underway with Saudi Arabia, but they were sensitive.

Mr Netanyahu at the time lamented: "I hope one day an Israeli prime minister will be able to fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh," he posted on Twitter.

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