Jul 15, 2022 - World

Saudi Arabia agrees to discuss direct flights from Israel for hajj

Saudi Arabias Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Saudi officials hold a working session with President Biden and other U.S. officials.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Saudi officials hold a working session with President Biden and U.S. officials. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Saudi Arabia has agreed to start discussions on direct flights from Israel to Jeddah for approved carriers for Muslim pilgrims in Israel wanting to participate in next year’s hajj, a senior U.S. official said after President Biden's meetings with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman on Friday.

Why it matters: It is the second step Saudi Arabia has taken towards normalizing relations with Israel since President Biden arrived in the region earlier this week. Late Thursday, the Gulf kingdom announced it will allow Israeli airlines to use its airspace.

  • Direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia will serve hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Israel who have had to travel for hajj through Jordan, which makes the trips longer and much more expensive.

Behind the scenes: Israeli officials said that the arrangements for such direct flights will take a long time to nail down, which is why they are beginning the discussions early.

Additionally on Friday, Biden confirmed for the first time that the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel reached arrangements to remove the multinational force of observers' peacekeepers from strategic islands of Tiran and Sanafir in the Red Sea.

  • The U.S. official said the area will be developed for tourism and peaceful pursuits. 
  • Axios reported on Thursday that Israel had approved the parameters of a deal around the two islands.

What they're saying: “International observers including U.S. soldiers will leave Tiran island in the Red Sea were they were stationed in the last 40 years since the Camp David accords," Biden said Friday.

  • "Because of this breakthrough the islands will be open for tourism and development while maintaining security arrangements and freedom of navigation for all parties including Israel,” he added.
  • A U.S. official told reporters that "Saudi Arabia has agreed to preserve and continue all existing commitments and procedures in the area" that were agreed under the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.
  • The MFO peacekeepers, including U.S. soldiers, will depart Tiran by the end of the year, the U.S. official said. 

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