By The Associated Press
The Latest on U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to the Mideast:
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — President Joe Biden is announcing that peacekeepers will depart the Red Sea island of Tiran by the end of the year, in the latest sign that Saudi Arabia and Israel are inching toward normalization.
The island, controlled by Egypt before being ceded to Saudi Arabia in 2017, has hosted American troops as part of the Multinational Force and Observers since 1981 after Israel and Egypt reached a peace accord.
The decision to withdraw the peacekeeping force and allow the island’s redevelopment for tourism required approval from Israel, which has grown closer with erstwhile enemy Saudi Arabia in recent years over shared concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and malign regional activities.
The announcement comes as Biden makes his first visit to the Middle East as president and hours after Saudi Arabia lifted its overflight restrictions on flights to or from Israel using its airspace.
Biden says Saudi Arabia is also pledging to work to “extend and strengthen” the U.N.-mediated truce in Yemen, which has put a years-long civil war that caused one of the globe’s worst humanitarian crises on pause. The kingdom will also provide over $1 billion in new development assistance to Yemen.
Other developments from Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia include commitments to cooperate on cybersecurity, clean energy, space exploration and public health.
The U.S leader is not securing any new oil production commitments from Saudi Arabia during his trip — a key priority with the prices high over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — but the White House says it anticipates “further steps” from the kingdom over the coming weeks that “will help stabilize markets considerably.”
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
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Israeli politics a backdrop to Biden’s visit to the Mideast
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — The publisher and CEO of the Washington Post says it was “shameful” that President Joe Biden fist-bumped Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday.
Fred Ryan says in a statement that the informal greeting with the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia “Was worse than a handshake.”
U.S. intelligence agencies have said they believe the crown prince, known familiarly by his initials, MBS, gave the order that resulted in the brutal killing and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a columnist for the paper.
Ryan added that the fist bump “projected a level of intimacy and comfort that delivers to MBS the unwarranted redemption he has been desperately seeking.”
Biden, as a presidential candidate, had promised to make the kingdom a “pariah” in response to the killing, but he moved to rebuild ties as global energy prices soared in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — President Joe Biden plans to deliver remarks Friday evening in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after spending three hours at a royal palace meeting with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Saudi officials.
The White House didn’t immediately preview Biden’s speech.
The speech will be Biden’s first public statements since arriving in Saudi Arabia from Israel earlier on Friday. They come after the kingdom lifted its restrictions on overflights into or from Israel in a sign the two countries are inching toward normalizing relations.
The three-hour meeting underscored the crucial effort underway to repair one of the world’s most important diplomatic relationships. Earlier, Biden greeted Prince Mohammed, the man he had once shunned for human rights abuses, with a fist bump. It was Biden’s first meeting with the Saudi crown prince.
Biden vowed as a Democratic presidential candidate to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” for its human rights record, particularly the murder of the writer Jamal Khashoggi. But now he is seeking to reaffirm Washington’s longstanding partnership with Riyadh as he confronts challenges caused by rising energy prices and Iran’s nuclear program.
JEDDAH, Saudi ARabia — President Joe Biden’s fist bump with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was drawing criticism even before his meeting with the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia concluded on Friday.
U.S. intelligence agencies said the the crown prince, known as MBS, ordered the 2018 killing of journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi.
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, tweeted a screen shot imagining what he would have said in response to the meeting, reading “the blood of MBS’s next victim is on your hands.”
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said “One fist bump is worth a thousand words.”
He added: “If we ever needed a visual reminder of the continuing grip oil-rich autocrats have on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, we got it today.”
The fist bump marked the first time Biden has met the crown prince since he took office. The brief encounter, which was captured by Saudi television, occurred as Biden stepped out of his presidential limousine after landing in the Red Sea city of Jeddah from Israel.
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — President Joe Biden gave a fist bump to Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as the kingdom’s heir-apparent greeted the U.S. leader at the royal palace in Jeddah on Friday.
It marked the first time Biden has met the crown prince, known by his initials MBS, since he took office. The brief encounter, which was captured by Saudi television, occurred as Biden stepped out of his presidential limousine.
U.S. intelligence officials have assessed that the Prince Mohammed authorized the killing and dismemberment of U.S.-based Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Biden and MBS, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, were set for a formal sitdown later on Friday, where Biden has pledged to bring up human rights. White House officials would not say whether Biden would also bring up Khashoggi’s case in particular.
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — President Joe Biden emerged from Air Force One on Friday, minutes after landing in Saudi Arabia and walked along a lavender carpet past a sword-bearing honor cordon.
The subdued arrival ceremony in the Red Sea city of Jeddah featured no formal program. The president was greeted upon arrival by Mecca’s governor, Prince Khalid bin Faisal, and Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the U.S., Princess Reema bint Bandar.
He was not met by King Salman, the 86-year-old monarch who was hospitalized twice this year and requires a cane to aid his walking, nor by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom U.S. intelligence agencies assess ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Biden flew to the kingdom directly from Israel, hours after Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to “all air carriers,” signaling the end of its longstanding ban on Israeli flights overflying its territory — a key step toward normalization between the two Mideast nations.
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — President Joe Biden on Friday traveled directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia, after the kingdom opened up its airspace to flights from Israel in a sign of warming ties between the two Middle East nations as they find common cause against regional threats from Iran.
Air Force One landed in Jeddah ahead of planned meetings with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of the kingdom. U.S. intelligence officials have determined the crown prince, often referred to by his initials, MBS, likely ordered the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
During his 2020 campaign for the White House, Biden had pledged to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” because of Khashoggi’s killing and other human rights abuses. He now seeks closer ties with the kingdom to bolster security in the region as Iran’s nuclear development continues unabated, and to secure additional energy supplies amid global tightening due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Biden’s flight wasn’t the first presidential flight directly between Israel and the kingdom. President George W. Bush flew from Tel Aviv directly to Riyadh in 2008. President Donald Trump flew from Saudi Arabia directly to Israel in 2017.
Biden’s visit to the Red Sea port city will include his participation in a meeting of the six Gulf Cooperation Council nations — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — as well as Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.
This item has been corrected to show Biden is not the first U.S. president to fly directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia.
WASHINGTON — The United States does not expect any announcements on a boost to Saudi Arabian oil production as President Joe Biden visits the kingdom.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One during the flight to Saudi Arabia on Friday not to “expect a particular announcement here bilaterally.”
Sullivan said that’s consistent with the administration’s expectations for the trip. “We believe any further action taken to ensure that there is sufficient energy to protect the health of the global economy will be done in the context of OPEC+,” he added.
U.S. officials have said they are hopeful that the energy producing cartel will agree to boost production in the coming weeks.
The OPEC+ agreement, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, to curb oil production was agreed upon during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns in 2020. It is set to expire next month, though quotas could remain in place through the end of the year.
Prices of Brent crude have hovered around $100 a barrel. Although Saudi Arabia is producing around 10.5 million barrels per day currently, the kingdom and the United Arab Emirates are seen as two countries with spare capacity that can pump more to help bring down prices. It’s unclear though how quickly the kingdom could ramp up production.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers on Friday dismissed President Joe Biden’s expressions of sympathy for the Palestinians, calling the United States “a partner in the aggression on our people.”
They also criticized President Mahmoud Abbas for meeting with Biden and reiterating his support for a peace process with Israel. Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said “it’s strange” that the Palestinian leader “extends his hand for peace with the occupation.”
Hamas and other Palestinian factions held a small protest against Biden’s visit on Thursday.
Hamas, which rejects Israel’s existence, seized power from Abbas’ forces in Gaza after defeating his secular Fatah party in elections more than 15 years ago. Abbas cancelled the first elections since then last year, when it appeared Fatah was heading for another crushing defeat.
Abbas supports negotiations with Israel leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state in east Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The last serious, substantive peace talks collapsed more than a decade ago, and Israel today is dominated by parties opposed to Palestinian statehood.
Biden reiterated his support for a two-state solution during his visit to the region and pledged some $300 million in aid to the Palestinians, but acknowledged that “the ground is not ripe” for a return to direct negotiations.
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — President Joe Biden is visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus.
Biden, a devout Roman Catholic, stopped by the church Friday after meeting with Palestinian leaders in the ancient West Bank city. He shook hands with local officials before entering the historic basilica, held sacred by Christians of all denominations.
The White House said Biden’s visit was to “underscore support for Christians who face challenges across the region.”
Inside, he was to meet with church patriarchs and receive a tour of its mosaics and architecture.
The visit is Biden’s last stop on his three-day trip to Israel and the occupied West Bank before he flies to Saudi Arabia to meet with the kingdom’s leaders and Gulf Arab allies.
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — President Joe Biden says the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was an “enormous loss to the essential work of sharing with the world the story of the Palestinian people.”
Speaking in Bethlehem alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Biden said the U.S. “will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death and will continue to stand up for media freedom everywhere in the world.”
Biden, struggling to pronounce her name, said Abu Akleh “was performing very vital work” when she was killed in May.
The U.S. State Department concluded earlier this month that Abu Akleh was likely killed by Israeli fire as she reported on a military raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. The report said it found no reason to suggest her killing was intentional.
Palestinian leaders, including Abbas, as well as Abu Akleh’s family, have rejected the State Department report and called for accountability for the Israeli military.
Speaking before Biden, Abbas said, “the killers of the martyr journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, they need to be held accountable.”
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — President Joe Biden says he remains supportive of an independent Palestinian state but says the “ground is not ripe” for restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Biden delivered the assessment at a news conference with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in the occupied West Bank.
The comments were likely to disappoint the Palestinians, who are looking to the U.S. to press Israel into restarting peace talks. The last substantive talks collapsed over a decade ago.
Biden said the world “cannot wait” for a peace agreement and said that steps need to be taken to improve the lives of Palestinian people.
Abbas said “the key to peace” in the region “begins with ending the Israeli occupation of our land.”
China’s Foreign Ministry said Friday it won’t take a backseat to the U.S. in the Middle East, as President Joe Biden visits the region to reassert American leadership and “not create a vacuum.”
“The Middle East is not the backyard of any other country and there is no such thing as vacuum in the region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing on Friday.
“We have made relentless efforts and played a key role in safeguarding peace, promoting development, and bringing a fair and equitable resolution on hotspot issues in the region,” Wang added. “China is ready to work with the international community to continue to play a positive role in realizing peace and development in the Middle East.”
Biden is using his trip to Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia to shore up ties with regional partners.
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — President Joe Biden has arrived in the biblical town of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Biden was given a bouquet of flowers by a pair of Palestinian children as he arrived. He held his hand over his heart as a Palestinian band played the U.S. national anthem before he entered Abbas’ office.
The brief meeting with the Palestinian leader comes after two days of nonstop talks with Israeli leaders. Biden is then to continue to Saudi Arabia for talks with Arab leaders.
In the West Bank, Biden is expected to announce some $200 million in additional assistance to the Palestinians, after pledging $100 million to hospitals that serve Palestinians in east Jerusalem earlier Friday.
While voicing support for a Palestinian state, Biden is not expected to float any new diplomatic initiatives during his visit.
Palestinian officials have expressed disappointment over the U.S. inability to restart peace talks.
On his way from Jerusalem, Biden’s motorcade passed by a billboard posted by an Israeli human rights group saying, “Mr. President, this is apartheid.” Human rights groups say Israel’s treatment amounts to apartheid. Israel rejects the allegation as an attack on its legitimacy.
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Palestinian journalists covering President Joe Biden’s visit to the occupied West Bank are wearing black T-shirts bearing the image of slain Palestinian-American correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh.
The popular Al-Jazeera correspondent was killed in May while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank.
The Palestinians, including colleagues who were with her, say that Israeli soldiers intentionally killed her. Israel says its troops were in a battle with Palestinian gunmen, and it’s not clear who fired the deadly bullet.
U.S. experts who inspected the bullet recently determined that Israeli fire likely killed her. But without providing evidence, they said there was no reason to believe the shooting was intentional. The findings have infuriated the Palestinians, including Abu Akleh’s family. The black T-shirts worn by journalists in Bethlehem, saying “Justice for Shireen,” were meant as a sign of solidarity with their slain colleague.
Biden was headed to the biblical town of Bethlehem to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Biden has announced hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance to the Palestinians. But Palestinians are disappointed that there are no plans for a diplomatic initiative to promote the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
JERUSALEM — President Joe Biden has announced $100 million in U.S. assistance for east Jerusalem hospitals that serve as “the backbone” of health care for Palestinians.
He spoke Friday during a visit to the Augusta Victoria Hospital, which provides advanced medical care, including radiation treatment for cancer patients and pediatric kidney dialysis, to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
The funding is subject to approval by the U.S. Congress and would pay out over several years.
Biden called the six hospitals “the backbone of the Palestinian health care system.”
The aid came after the Trump administration slashed $25 million to the hospitals in 2018 as part of a larger suspension of aid to the Palestinians. Biden has restored much of that assistance since assuming office, but has made no progress in resuming the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which collapsed more than a decade ago.
Dr. Fadi Atrash, the hospital’s CEO, called Biden’s visit a “courageous statement of support for the Palestinian people.”
Biden was set to meet with Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank later on Friday.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians want all three for their future state.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, and its fate is at the heart of the century-old conflict.
The six east Jerusalem hospitals, which symbolize the Palestinian presence in the city, have faced a funding crisis in recent years, as the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority has struggled to pay for advanced treatment for Palestinians.
Augusta Victoria Hospital, which is operated by the Lutheran World Federation, ended 2021 in severe debt, with more than $70 million owed by the PA, according to a letter sent to U.S. lawmakers in May.
JERUSALEM — About two dozen pro-Palestinian demonstrators have gathered in east Jerusalem ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to a local hospital.
The protesters on Friday are holding Palestinian flags and posters of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist who was killed in May while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank.
After two days of nonstop meetings with Israeli leaders, Biden is visiting the Augusta Victoria Hospital, which serves local Palestinians, before heading to Bethlehem to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The demonstration is several hundred meters (yards) from the hospital, with Israeli police standing at a distance outside the building. It was not clear if Biden’s motorcade would pass by the crowd.
Biden is expected to announce over $300 million in assistance for the Palestinians on Friday. While Biden has voiced support for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, there are no plans for any diplomatic initiative to resolve the decades-old conflict.
Friday’s visit marks a tacit acknowledgement of Palestinian claims to east Jerusalem.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and considers the entire city its capital. But its annexation of the eastern sector, home to the city’s most important religious sites, is not internationally recognized. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
JERUSALEM — Saudi Arabia on Friday opened its airspace to “all air carriers,” signaling the end of its longstanding ban on Israeli flights overflying its territory — a key step toward normalization between the two nations as President Joe Biden visits the region.
In a statement posted to Twitter hours before Biden’s flight to the kingdom, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation said it was announcing “the decision to open the Kingdom’s airspace for all air carriers that meet the requirements of the Authority for overflying.”
The announcement is an incremental step toward the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel and builds on the strong but informal ties the erstwhile foes have developed recent years over their shared concerns about Iran’s growing influence in the region.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has allowed flights between Israel and Gulf states to cross through its airspace. In 2020, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly flew to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and last week several Israeli defense reporters visited the kingdom and published news reports about their welcome.
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