A group of Israeli Muslims invited to a United Nations tourism event to honor their picturesque mountain village was unexpectedly blocked from attending by host Saudi Arabia, Bloomberg reported on Sunday.
According to the report, the Israeli village of Kfar Kama in the Galilee region was among 32 spots chosen by the UN as the best rural tourism destinations of the year. Winners were picked for their cultural and natural assets, as well as their commitment to economic, social and environmental sustainability.
The UN World Tourism Organization had invited both the villagers and Israeli officials along with those from 22 countries to the two-day event in the Saudi village of AlUla, starting on Sunday. However, the Israelis were never issued visas, according to people familiar with the matter who were quoted by Bloomberg. This is despite an appeal from the UN for equal treatment for member states and the Saudis spending billions to become a major player in the tourism industry.
Kfar Kama was built by Circassian immigrants from the northwest Caucasus region in the late 1800s. The town has remained ethnically Circassian ever since. Many of its 3,500 residents are Muslim and speak Circassian as their first language. Like some Bedouins, they serve in the IDF.
The report comes two days after Iran and Saudi Arabia announced that they would re-establish diplomatic relations.
The two countries will reopen their embassies in Riyadh and Tehran within 60 days, Iranian media reported, claiming that the deal was reached during a recent meeting in China.
The Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia have not had formal diplomatic ties since an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and a Saudi consulate in Mashhad. That attack prompted Saudi Arabia to expel Iran's mission in Riyadh. The attacks in Tehran and Mashhad came in response to the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia.
Israel has been for years rumored to have behind-the-scenes ties with Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis have vehemently denied those rumors.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that his goal is to achieve a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia that would “effectively end the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
However, Saudi officials have repeatedly said that a Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital is a prerequisite for Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel.