The 128 Israelis whose flight from the Seychelles was forced to make an emergency landing in Saudi Arabia on Monday night arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday afternoon.
They spent Monday night at an airport hotel in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah in Mecca Province.
The travelers departed Jeddah International Airport on a replacement Air Seychelles plane on Tuesday morning that was flown in from Dubai. The passengers were reportedly not allowed to leave their hotel rooms during the stay.
“I very much appreciate the warm attitude of the Saudi authorities toward the Israeli passengers whose plane was in distress and had to make an emergency landing,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video message on Tuesday that was subtitled in Arabic.
“I’m glad everyone is coming home. Thank you for the good neighborliness,” he added.
New details were emerging about the passenger list, including that senior security officials on vacation were onboard Air Seychelles flight HM022, as well as close relatives of Otzma Yehudit lawmaker Almog Cohen.
The flight was forced to land due to an electrical problem, although the pilots did not declare an emergency touchdown. The passengers were then forced to wait on the plane for three hours.
“As soon as it was decided that we would stay here, we were received very well, we were treated amazingly. Everyone smiled and went out of their way to help, accompanied us to the hotel and arranged rooms for everyone,” Sharon Licht-Patern, one of the passengers, told Kan News.
In July 2022, Saudi Arabia announced the opening of its airspace to “all carriers,” paving the way for Israeli commercial airlines to overfly the kingdom and thereby drastically reduce flight times from the Jewish state to major destinations in Asia.
King Abdulaziz International Airport, also known as Jeddah International Airport, is a designated landing site for flights to Israel that encounter difficulties while overflying Saudi Arabia.
Jerusalem is working on an agreement to allow direct flights for its Muslim citizens to travel to Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Last week, the Biden administration told the Israeli government that it would have to make considerable concessions to the Palestinians if a U.S.-brokered normalization deal with Saudi Arabia is to materialize.
In an interview earlier this month with Bloomberg Television, Netanyahu expressed confidence that his government could achieve some form of normalization with Riyadh in the coming months.
“If there is a political will, there will be a political way to achieve normalization and formal peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia. … I’d bet on it,” the premier said.