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Israeli airliners to fly over Sudan and Oman as Netanyahu courts ex-foe

Netanyahu says skies have been opened to Israeli airliners after recent outreach to Arab and Muslim countries
An Israeli El Al flight lands at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion international airport (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israeli airliners would be able to overfly Sudan on their way to South America, part of Israel's drive to improve ties with Muslim countries and isolate rival Iran.

Encouraged by the Trump administration, Israel has sought better relations with formerly hostile Arab and Muslim countries that share its worries about Iran or see potential economic benefits.

In October, Netanyahu made a surprise visit to Oman, a Gulf state that does not formally recognise Israel. Netanyahu said on Monday that Omani leader Sultan Qaboos has also agreed to overflights by Israeli airline El Al.

The prime minister also told a briefing of diplomats that his talks last month with Chadian President Idriss Deby, in which relations between the two countries were renewed for the first time since 1972, had helped open up a new air corridor to South America.

"At this time, we can overfly Egypt. We can overfly Chad, that has already been set. And to all appearances, we can also overfly this corner of Sudan," he said, pointing to a map.

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Netanyahu spokespeople did not elaborate and it was unclear when Israeli flights might be able to start overflying Sudan en route to South America, which the prime minister described as Israel's fourth-most important air-travel destination. Countries including Peru and Bolivia are a popular destination for Israeli backpackers.

There was no immediate comment from Khartoum.

Israeli diplomats say there have been low-level contacts with Sudan in recent years though the authorities there have been reluctant to acknowledge them publicly.

Israel had seen Sudan as an Iranian ally and accused it of serving as a conduit for arms smuggling to Palestinians in Gaza. Israeli diplomats now say they believe Sudan has distanced itself from Iran.