Advertisement

Israeli delegation attends UNESCO gathering in Saudi Arabia

Flags of Saudi Arabia and Israel stand together in a kitchen staging area as U.S. Secretary of State Blinken holds meetings in Washington

RIYADH (Reuters) - An Israeli delegation on Monday attended a meeting by the United Nations' cultural agency in Riyadh, in another sign that Saudi Arabia is opening up to Israel with Washington pressing for a full normalisation of ties.

Three Israeli officials were seen sitting at Israel's chairs of the 45th session of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, a Reuters witness said. The officials declined to comment when approached by Reuters.

Another Israeli official said the delegation included the Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for international organisations and the ambassador to international organisations in Paris.

A delegate from Israel's Education Ministry and the chair of Israel's Antiquities Authority also took part in the gathering, the official said.

The Saudi government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesperson and UNESCO declined to comment.

Public appearances of Israeli officials are rare in Saudi Arabia, a Muslim powerhouse and home to Islam's holiest shrines, but both sides have had covert contacts which were forged partly through shared fears of Iran.

Washington has been pressing its traditional ally Riyadh to sign a normalisation deal with Israel, which would be its biggest diplomatic win in the region and following similar agreements with United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, known as the Abraham Accords.

However, Riyadh has so far resisted U.S. pressure and linked the move to the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, along with other demands.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)