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Saudi Arabia refuses entry visas for Israel ministers to attend UNESCO conference

September 6, 2023 at 4:40 pm

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, in the capital Manama, Bahrein [Ayman Yaqoob/Anadolu Agency]

Saudi Arabia has refused to issue entry visas for Israel’s Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, and Education Minister, Yifat Kish, into the Kingdom to attend the upcoming UNESCO conference, amid ongoing negotiations between the two countries for a potential normalisation deal.

According to Israel’s Channel 13, Tel Aviv had attempted to secure the entry visas and invitations for the two ministers to participate in UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meeting in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, which will run from 10 to 25 September.

The Kingdom has prevented their entry by refusing to issue the visas, and participation reportedly remains limited to professional representatives.

Israel: official claims Saudi priority for normalisation is US security guarantee not Palestine

Citing anonymous Israeli officials, the Channel revealed that the Israeli Foreign Ministry had followed up by re-evaluating the situation with the United States, with American officials reportedly clarifying that the timing for the ministers’ attempted visit to Saudi Arabia is inappropriate.

The Israeli efforts to secure an official entry into the Kingdom for the UNESCO conference comes at a time when Riyadh and Tel Aviv continue to negotiate on the terms and conditions for a potential deal to normalise relations with other, with the backing of the US. 

While covert visits and meetings between Saudi and Israeli officials have reportedly been made on numerous previous occasions, the issuing of such visas for the Israeli ministers’ attendance would appear as an official invitation and visit, while the two countries do not yet hold open diplomatic relations.

Israel expects normalisation with Saudi Arabia early next year