Saudi Arabia has suspended talks on potentially normalising ties with Israel, a source told AFP on Saturday, amid the war raging between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Hamas launched a large-scale attack on Israel on October 7 which killed 1,300 people, sparking a retaliatory bombing campaign that has killed at least 1,900 in the Gaza Strip ahead of a potential Israeli ground invasion of the territory.
“Saudi Arabia has decided to pause discussion on possible normalisation and has informed US officials,” a source familiar with the discussions told AFP.
The Gulf kingdom, home to the holiest sites in Islam, has never recognised Israel and did not join the 2020 US-brokered Abraham Accords that saw its Gulf neighbours Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates as well as Morocco establish formal ties with Israel.
US President Joe Biden’s administration had been pushing hard in recent months for Saudi Arabia to take the same step.
Under de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, son of the ageing King Salman, Riyadh had laid out conditions for normalisation including security guarantees from Washington and help developing a civilian nuclear programme.
In an interview with Fox News last month, Prince Mohammed said “every day we get closer” to a deal, though he also insisted the Palestinian issue was “very important” for Riyadh.
“We need to solve that part. We need to ease the life of the Palestinians,” he said.
News that normalisation discussions are now on hold comes as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to meet with his Saudi counterpart on Saturday, the latest stop on a six-nation tour of the region.
– Diplomatic push –
In the week since Hamas launched its attack on Israel, Riyadh has voiced increasing disquiet about the fate of Palestinians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, where Israel has launched thousands of strikes and ordered the evacuation of the territory’s north, prompting thousands to flee.
It has also publicised its diplomatic outreach “to stop the ongoing escalation”, contacting regional leaders across and beyond the region.
On Thursday, Saudi state media reported that Prince Mohammed had discussed “the current military situation in Gaza and its environs” with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
It was the first call between the two men since their countries announced a surprise China-brokered rapprochement in March after seven years of severed ties.
On Friday, Saudi Arabia denounced the displacement of Palestinians within Gaza and attacks on “defenceless civilians”, its strongest language criticising Israel since the war broke out.
Riyadh “affirms its categorical rejection of calls for the forced displacement of the Palestinian people from Gaza, and its condemnation of the continued targeting of defenceless civilians there,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.