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For the first time, journalists from Saudi Arabia, UAE visit Israel for a 'friendly tour'

This is the first time Saudi and Iraqi journalists have travelled to Israel [Twitter]

Date of publication: 22 July, 2019

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A delegation of six Arab journalists, including for the first time a Saudi and an Emirati, have visited Israel at the invitation of the Jewish state, local media reported.

A delegation of six Arab journalists, including a Saudi and an Emirati, have visited Israel at the invitation of the Jewish state, local media reported.

Israel's foreign ministry announced the visit on Sunday amid its efforts to improve ties with Gulf Arab countries, with which it has no formal diplomatic relations.

The ministry said in a statement that for the first time Saudi and Iraqi journalists would be travelling to Israel.

"The delegation will visit [the] Yad Vashem [Holocaust museum], the Knesset and Jerusalem's holy sites," the statement said.

"The delegation will meet with members of the Knesset, officials from the foreign ministry and academic… and tour northern Israel, Haifa, Nazareth and Tel Aviv," it added.

Hassan Kaabia, the ministry's Arabic-language spokesman, said the trip aimed to expose the journalists to "the real Israel".

"This is the first time this type of delegation has come directly to Israel from countries with whom Israel does not have diplomatic relations," he added.

The ministry said the other journalists on the trip come from Egypt and Jordan - the only two Arab countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel.

News of the trip has drawn criticism from Palestinian group Hamas and the Jordanian Press Association.

"Such normalisation visits with the Zionist enemy… have serious implications for Palestinian rights and encourages the occupation to deepen its crimes and violations against our people," Hamas said in a statement.

Jordan's press association has said it will take measures to deter any such visits by journalists to Israel.

In another recent sign of a thaw, a group of Israeli journalists attended the US-led economic conference on Israeli-Palestinian peace in the Gulf state of Bahrain in late June.

The Palestinian leadership boycotted the conference, citing a series of moves against them by US President Donald Trump's administration.

In recent years, Israel has been courting Gulf nations over their common concerns over regional rival Iran.

Gulf states Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have long had unofficial behind closed doors relations with Israel.

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