Israeli minister plans direct flights of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia next year
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli official said on Saturday he expected members of the country’s Muslim minority to be able to travel directly to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage by next year after the kingdom signaled a new openness by welcoming US President Joe Biden.
On Friday, Riyadh said its airspace would be open to all carriers – a de facto extension of overflight rights for Israeli planes, which previously only had a Saudi corridor for Gulf destinations, to also include various Asian routes. .
Esawi Freij, Israel’s minister for regional cooperation, said the Saudi decision showed that US-encouraged efforts to move the countries toward more normal relations “are at a very advanced stage” that could “turn the dream into a reality” for Muslims like him.
“I believe that in a year, the Muslim Israeli citizen will be able to fly from Ben Gurion (airport near Tel Aviv) to Jeddah and from there to Mecca to fulfill his duty of pilgrimage,” Freij told the Kan public broadcaster. .
He declined to say what this prediction was based on.
There was no immediate comment from Riyadh.
Last week, Freij said he had asked Saudi Arabia to allow direct Tel Aviv-Jeddah flights for Muslim pilgrims. A US official told Reuters on Thursday that such a clearance was in the works.
Saudi Arabia has long admitted Muslim pilgrims from Israel,
but they must transit through third countries. It ends
costing around $11,500 for a one-week stay, Freij said.
Pilgrims from neighboring Arab countries pay about half.
The birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel, saying it would first require addressing the goals of a Palestinian state.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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