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Israeli government says it’s ‘pleased’ with journalist and TV station’s apology for Mecca trip

Israeli government officials are pleased with statements by a national news network and its reporter apologizing for broadcasting an illegal visit to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, a source told The Times of Israel on Wednesday. Jerusalem close to the file.

Channel 13’s Gil Tamary’s Sunday visit to Mecca violated Saudi law, which prohibits non-Muslims from entering the city. It sparked an immediate outcry, with the topic still hot on social media for users in the Middle East on Wednesday night.

On Tuesday – a day after the report aired – Channel 13 and Tamary issued statements saying they apologized if the segment offended Muslims, but stood by the decision to air it, calling it a significant journalistic achievement. The 10 Minute report showed Tamary being driven into town by a local who agreed to smuggle him into Makkah. He filmed himself climbing Mount Arafat before quickly setting off again after arousing the suspicions of several guards at the holy site.

The Israeli government refrained from commenting on the broadcast, but the source familiar with the matter said it caused headaches in Jerusalem, which was seeking to warm and ultimately normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. It’s a goal that Israeli and US officials have admitted will not be realized in the near future and Riyadh’s foreign minister also threw cold water on the idea last weekend. But some analysts, citing widespread Muslim outrage, argued that Tamary’s visit may well have further complicated normalization efforts,

The source who spoke to The Times of Israel declined to say whether the government had any involvement in Channel 13 and Tamary’s decisions to release the apology statements.

Earlier on Wednesday, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej called the TV report “stupid”.

“I think it was stupidity,…totally irrelevant [and] just [done] for the audiences,” Frej, who is the second Muslim minister in Israel’s history, told the Kan public broadcaster. Frej also argued that the segment would hurt Saudi-Israeli normalization prospects.

“It’s a holy place for Muslims,” ​​Frej said. “What was the purpose? You want a report from there, send a Muslim journalist!… The damage will be significant.

Tamary was one of only three members of the Israeli press allowed into Saudi Arabia to cover the GCC+3 summit last weekend.

Saudi Arabia rejected recognition of the Jewish state in 1948 and maintains this policy in part because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, that has started to change in recent years, with behind-the-scenes attempts to promote diplomatic and security cooperation in the face of the Iranian threat.

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia announced it was opening its airspace to all civilian overflights, in a move widely seen as part of US-brokered efforts to advance normalization steps between Jerusalem and Riyadh. The announcement came as US President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, hours before heading to Jeddah and meeting with Saudi leaders.

However, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Saturday that Riyadh’s decision to open up its airspace had “nothing to do with diplomatic relations with Israel” and was “in no case a precursor of new measures” towards standardization.

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