Israeli minister foresees direct pilgrimage flights to Saudi Arabia next year

Riyadh to open airspace for 'all air carriers that meet requirements' of civil aviation authority

By Reuters

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Published: Sat 16 Jul 2022, 11:38 PM

Last updated: Sat 16 Jul 2022, 11:41 PM

An Israeli minister said on Saturday he expected Muslims citizens from the country to be able to fly directly to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage by next year after the kingdom signalled new openness as it hosted US President Joe Biden.

On Friday, Riyadh said its airspace would be open to all carriers.

The General Authority of Civil Aviation of Saudi Arabia said in a Tweet that “all air carriers that meet the requirements of the Authority for overflying” would be permitted.

Esawi Freij, Israel's regional cooperation minister, said the Saudi decision showed US-encouraged efforts to move the countries toward more normal ties "are at a very advanced stage" that may "turn the dream into reality" for Muslims like himself.

"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 Makkah to fulfil his pilgrimage duty," Freij told public broadcaster Kan.

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 permission was in the works.

Saudi Arabia has long admitted Muslim pilgrims from Israel, but they must travel through third countries. That ends up costing around $11,500 for a week-long stay, Freij said.

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