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Israeli minister makes first public visit to Saudi Arabia amid talks to secure bilateral ties

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Israel’s Tourism Minister Haim Katz arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for the first such high-level public visit to the kingdom amid talks to secure bilateral ties.

“Katz is the first Israeli minister to head an official delegation in Saudi Arabia,” his ministry said in a statement, adding he would attend a United Nations World Tourism Organisation event in Riyadh.

During the two-day visit he is due to hold meetings “with his counterparts”, Katz’s office said without specifying which countries will be represented in such talks.

The landmark visit comes as Riyadh sent its first delegation to the occupied West Bank in three decades.

Nayef al-Sudairi, who was appointed non-resident ambassador to the Palestinian territories last month, held talks Tuesday with senior Palestinian officials including president Mahmud Abbas.

The diplomatic travels come as the United States presses its allies Israel and Saudi Arabia to normalise ties.

Israel has moved closer to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco following a US-driven diplomatic initiative in 2020 which pushed for normalisation of relations.

Establishing ties with Saudi Arabia — home to some of Islam’s holiest sites — would be the grand prize for Israel and change the geopolitics of the Middle East.

Last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said “six or seven” Muslim countries could “make peace” with Israel if it signed a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia.

He also stated that “peace with Saudi Arabia means peace with the greater Muslim world”.

“There are at least another six or seven countries that I have met with —significant Muslim countries with which we do not have relations — that are interested [in peace],” the minister added.

Normalisation with Israel, however, would break Riyadh’s decades-long stance against recognising Israel before it resolves the conflict with the Palestinians.

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