Saudi Arabia said it would open its airspace to all air carriers, paving the way for more overflights to and from Israel, in a decision welcomed by U.S. President Joe Biden who is due to visit the kingdom on Friday.
The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) said the country's airspace was now open to all carriers that meet its requirements for overflights, in line with international conventions that say there should be no discrimination between civil aircraft.
The decision will "complement the efforts aimed at consolidating the kingdom's position as a global hub connecting three continents and to enhance international air connectivity," GACA added in a statement.
Bypassing Saudi Arabian airspace had added to flight times and increased fuel burn on some services to and from Israel.
U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed the decision and said it was an important step towards building a more integrated and stable Middle East region.
"Today, I will be the first president of the United States to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. As we mark this important moment, Saudi Arabia’s decision can help build momentum toward Israel’s further integration into the region, including with Saudi Arabia," Biden said in a statement.
Earlier on Thursday, a U.S official told Reuters that Saudi Arabia would soon grant Israeli airlines unfettered overflight access and permit direct charter flights from Israel for Muslims participating in the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.
Saudi Arabia, Islam's birthplace, does not recognise Israel and has said nothing of possible bilateral developments during Biden's visit. Israel has also shied from drawing such links.
Despite the absence of official ties, Saudi Arabia agreed in 2020 to allow Israel-United Arab Emirates flights to cross its territory. (Reporting by Omar Fahmy in Cairo and Eric Beech in Washington Additional reporting by Shivam Patel in Bengaluru Writing by Moataz Mohamed Editing by Jamie Freed and Mark Potter)