Saudi Arabia denies Israelis visas for UN event – report

Representatives from the Circassian-Israeli community were prevented from attending Saudi-based UN event celebrating their village as an authentic tourism destination.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Just days after announcing that the country would resume diplomatic relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia reportedly denied visas to Israelis, preventing them from attending a UN event in the Gulf Kingdom.

The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) invited members of Israel’s small Circassian community to attend an event celebrating the selection of their village, Kfar Kama, as one of the world’s most authentic tourism destinations.

Circassians are Muslims originally from the Caucasus region who fled to Israel after the Russian conquest of their region in the 19th century. Unlike Muslim Arabs, they are drafted to the Israeli army. Some 5,000 Circassians live in Israel, nearly all of them in Kfar Kama.

But despite a promise from Saudi Arabia to the UNWTO that the country would treat all visa applicants equally, the Saudi government refused to issue visas to permit the Circassian-Israelis to enter the country, Bloomberg reported.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry intervened, sending a letter requesting assistance to the UNWTO secretary-general, who echoed those concerns to the Saudi Foreign Ministry. However, the Saudi Foreign Ministry has reportedly refused to budge.

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It’s unclear if the visa issue is a sign of souring relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, now that Riyadh is growing closer to Iran, or if the decision was made by a bureaucrat without a deeper message behind the move.

The visa denials come after repeated hints from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a formal peace agreement with Saudi Arabia is on the horizon – claims that Riyadh has flatly denied.

While it’s believed that Saudi Arabia and Israel maintain extensive ties regarding regional security, intelligence, and military cooperation, the Gulf Kingdom has shied away from the concept of signing an official normalization pact with Jerusalem.

Saudi Arabia has maintained that a two-state solution, which sees the Palestinians given their own homeland, is a precondition for peace with Israel.