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Saudi Arabia: First flight to Israel crosses kingdom's airspace after opening of skies

Cathay Pacific flight passes over northern Saudi Arabia and Jordan, before entering Israel north of the Dead Sea
July's announcement means flights to and from locations in the east such as China and India can now pass over the Saudi peninsula, saving hours of flight time (AFP/File photo)

A commercial flight headed for Israel entered Saudi airspace on Thursday for the first time since the kingdom last month opened its skies to all flights, including those from Israel, according to data from a global flight tracking service.

The airline Cathay Pacific landed in Tel Aviv on Thursday morning from Hong Kong.

Flight paths marked on Flightradar24 showed the aircraft flying over the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Gulf before moving over the Saudi coastline near Dammam. 

The flight then passed over northern Saudi Arabia and Jordan, entering Israel north of the Dead Sea.

In July, Saudi Arabia announced it had opened its airspace to all civilian overflights just hours before Joe Biden became the first US president to directly fly from Israel to the kingdom.

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At the time, Biden hailed the Saudi move as a “historic decision” and credited his administration with helping to bring the deal about. 

Before the announcement, Saudi Arabia had barred overflights from both Israeli and non-Israeli companies that were travelling to or from Israel.

Israeli airlines have still not flown over Saudi airspace since the announcement.

Last month, CNN and Israeli broadcaster Kan 11 reported that Saudi Arabia would soon announce a deal permitting direct Israeli flights from Tel Aviv to Jeddah to serve Palestinian citizens of Israel wishing to perform the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.

'Stab in the back'

Before Biden’s visit to the region, Israeli and US officials had voiced high hopes for progress towards the normalisation of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

So far, Saudi Arabia has held out from joining the 2020 Abraham Accords, which saw the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

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Palestinians have denounced the normalisation deals, describing them as a "stab in the back".

They say the accords violate a longstanding pan-Arab position that Israel could normalise relations only in return for land.

Saudi Arabia, the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, has said that Israel should settle its conflict with the Palestinians before it could normalise relations with Riyadh. 

However, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's de facto ruler, has signalled his interest in improving relations with Israel. 

The kingdom began allowing Israeli airlines to fly over its territory in a special air corridor for flights to and from the UAE and Bahrain after the Abraham Accords were signed, but did not allow flights to destinations further east.

July's announcement means flights to and from locations in the east such as China and India can now pass over the Saudi peninsula, saving hours of flight time, the Times of Israel reported.

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