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Saudi denies MBS and Bibi held meeting

NEOM, Saudi Arabia: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late Sunday. – AFP

JERUSALEM: Israeli media reports and a government source said yesterday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had met for landmark talks in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but Riyadh denied that the meeting took place. Israeli public broadcaster Kan and other media said Netanyahu and Mossad spy agency chief Yosef Meir Cohen had met Prince Mohammed, together with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the futuristic Red Sea city of NEOM on Sunday. An Israeli government source who requested anonymity confirmed the reports to AFP.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan then strongly denied the report that suggested Saudi Arabia was moving away from its decades-old stance of refusing dialogue with the Jewish state until the Palestinian conflict is resolved. “I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by @SecPompeo,” Prince Faisal tweeted. “No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi.”

Pompeo has confirmed he was in NEOM as part of a Middle East Tour and met with Prince Mohammed, who is widely known by his initials MBS. The US State Department declined to confirm a trilateral meeting. Netanyahu, asked about the Saudi trip during a public meeting yesterday of his Likud party, said: “I have never commented on these things and I do not intend to start now.”

Israel’s normalization deals with UAE and Bahrain, known as the Abraham Accords, were brokered under US President Donald Trump, who leaves office in less than two months. Sudan has also agreed in principle to normalize ties with Israel. There has been speculation Washington may push for other Arab states to join the accords before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in.

Israel yesterday sent a delegation to Sudan, its first since last month’s announcement of normalization of relations between the two countries, a senior Israeli official said. Israeli army radio also reported yesterday that the trip was under way. The Israeli official confirmed the report to AFP but declined to say who was in the delegation.

Prominent Israeli diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid of Walla News and Axios reported that Netanyahu and Cohen flew on a plane belonging to Israeli businessman Udi Angel. Ravid cited flight tracker data showing Angel’s plane leaving Israel at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) on Sunday, heading to NEOM and returning to Israel five hours later. Palestinian militant groups condemned the news of a softer Saudi line on their enemy, Israel. Palestinian Islamic Jihad called it “a betrayal of Jerusalem, blessed Makkah and Madinah”. – Agencies

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