Israel seeks directs flights to Saudi for pilgrims – report

Direct flights are a sensitive issue due to longstanding disagreements between the two states over Palestine

Israel is reportedly trying to persuade Saudi Arabia to allow pilgrims to fly directly to the kingdom for Hajj through special flights.

To date there are no direct flights between the two countries, with Muslim Israeli citizens forced to travel 1,000 miles across the Jordan river and through the Saudi desert to Makkah.

Bloomberg cited Israel’s communications minister Ayoob Kara as saying the country hoped its citizens would be able to fly to the kingdom from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

Direct flights are a sensitive issue due to longstanding disagreements between the two states regarding the treatment of Palestine.

A sign of the controversy surrounding flights was seen last month when Saudi Arabian Airlines moved quickly to dismiss a social media rumour that one of its flights landed in Israel.

Read: Saudia denies rumours that its flight landed in Tel Aviv

However, in a May trip to the kingdom US President Donald Trump broke a longstanding taboo of flying between the two nations, who have been drawn closer by mutual enemy Iran.

Read: Trump says concerns about Iran driving Israel, Arab states closer

“Reality has changed,” Kara told Bloomberg in an interview. “This is a good time to make the request, and I’m working hard on it.”

The official indicated that facilitating Israeli pilgrims could be one of several measures aimed to sway Israel to make concessions in its negotiations with Palestine.

Other potential moves could including lifting trade restrictions, improving telecoms links and allowing Israeli carriers to use Gulf airspace for flights to Asia.

Around 6,000 Israeli Arab embark on the Hajj pilgrimage each year with a few hundred allowed to fly from Jordan’s Queen Alia International Airport and the rest using bus tours, Kara was quoted as saying.

He said a potential flight from Tel Aviv might have to stop in Jordan or another country, with discussions underway for Saudi to issue temporary passports for Israeli pilgrims instead of relying on Jordan.

The minister added that he had spoken to government officials in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries about the plan and received indications they were “ready to do it” but it was still under “negotiation” due to political sensitivity.