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Israeli minister claims PM secretly met with Saudi Crown Prince, Saudis deny report, Netanyahu refuses to comment

Israeli minister claims PM secretly met with Saudi Crown Prince, Saudis deny report, Netanyahu refuses to comment
Riyadh has denied claims that the Israeli PM became the first leader of the Jewish state to meet Saudi officials at the weekend through secret engagement with Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to comment.

An Israeli minister said on Monday that Netanyahu had jetted into the new Saudi Red Sea city of Neom for talks with the Crown Prince and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who the Israeli PM hosted in Jerusalem last week as part of the US politician's tour of the Middle East.

But later on Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan poured cold water on the claims that unprecedented Israeli-Saudi talks had taken place.

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"No such meeting occurred," he tweeted. "The only officials present were American and Saudi."

Earlier, Israeli Minister of Education Yoav Galant had hailed Netanyahu's meeting with MBS and Pompeo as an "amazing achievement."

"The very fact the meeting happened, and was outed publicly, even if half-officially right now, is a matter of great importance," he told Israel's Army Radio.

The head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, Yossi Cohen, was reportedly also present, Army Radio and Kan public radio reported on Monday.

Flight-tracking data showed that a private jet previously used by Netanyahu for international visits flew from Tel Aviv to Neom on Sunday night and was on the ground for about two hours, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

The report claims that the plane is the same one Netanyahu took to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin and the one he intended to use for his trip to the White House, where Israel normalized ties with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in a deal brokered by US President Donald Trump.

But when asked about the visit at a meeting of his Likud party, Netanyahu replied: "Are you serious? Friends, throughout my years I have never commented on such things and I don't intend to start doing so now."

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The US Embassy in Jerusalem also declined to comment on the alleged visit. Israel signed a visa exemption agreement with the United Arab Emirates on Sunday as part of a continued thawing of relations between Jerusalem and the Gulf states.

During his visit to Neom, Pompeo reportedly tried to encourage Saudi Arabia to follow fellow Gulf nations UAE and Bahrain in normalizing relations with Israel amid fears over the growing nuclear capabilities of Iran on the other side of the Persian Gulf.

Bin Farhan said at the weekend that Riyadh had "supported normalization with Israel for a long time, but one very important thing must happen first: a permanent and full peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians."

Pompeo visited Israel last week as part of his Middle Eastern tour, where he controversially visited the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Golan Heights territories, which were captured from Palestine and Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967.

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