Israel drops Saudi Arabia from virus quarantine list, day after Netanyahu's reported visit

Published November 24, 2020
This combination file photo shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. — Reuters
This combination file photo shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. — Reuters

A day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reported trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel's health ministry added the kingdom to its list of coronavirus “green” countries, exempting returning travellers from quarantine.

The health ministry on Tuesday confirmed that Saudi Arabia had been added to the safe list a day earlier, but dismissed any link to Netanyahu's reported visit to the futuristic Red Sea city of Neom on Sunday.

“The process is very simple and it happens once every two weeks,” health ministry director general Hezi Levi told public broadcaster Kan on Tuesday morning.

“On the previous list, Saudi Arabia was red,” he said. “The morbidity rates decreased. It's now green. “It has nothing to do with anyone's visit to any country.”

Israeli media reported that Netanyahu travelled to Neom for landmark talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, which has no official diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

There has been unconfirmed speculation that Saudi Arabia might be seeking to become the latest Arab state to normalise ties with Israel.

An Israeli government source contacted by AFP confirmed the talks, which Riyadh firmly denied on Monday, and the kingdom has publicly said it will not establish diplomatic relations with Israel until the Palestinian conflict is resolved.

Had Saudi Arabia not been on Israel's coronavirus green list, Netanyahu and his staff would technically been compelled to quarantine for 14 days upon return.

Another country turned “green” in the ministry's latest listing was Bahrain, which along with its Gulf ally the United Arab Emirates have established ties with Israel, only the third and fourth Arab nations to do so.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu announced he had spoken with Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and accepted an invitation to conduct “an official visit to Bahrain soon”.

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