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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Saudi Arabia begins trial of two accused Mossad spies over Hajj plot

The Jordanians are alleged to have planned an attack against the kingdom

An aerial view of the holy Kaaba and the Grand Mosque compound during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 02 September 2017. Two accused Mossad agents are alleged to have plotted an attack during the holiday, according to a Saudi court. Mast Irham / EPA
An aerial view of the holy Kaaba and the Grand Mosque compound during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 02 September 2017. Two accused Mossad agents are alleged to have plotted an attack during the holiday, according to a Saudi court. Mast Irham / EPA

A Saudi Arabian court began the trial of two Jordanians accused of spying against the kingdom for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya said on Monday.

The charges under consideration by the Specialized Criminal Court include plotting a terrorist act during the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage four years ago and supporting Islamic State militants, Al Arabiya wrote on its website.

It did not provide further details about the case.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and site of its holiest shrines, does not officially recognize Israel. It has maintained for years that normalizing relations hinges on an Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war – territory Palestinians seek for a future state.

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However, increased tensions between Riyadh and Tehran has fueled speculation that shared interests may push Saudi Arabia and Israel to work together against what they regard as a common Iranian threat.

On Monday, the office of Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would make a "significant development regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran". US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to both Saudi Arabia and Israel in recent days to discuss the Iran deal that many in the region have long criticised for handing Iran back lucrative sums of money in return for reining in its nuclear programme.

The US, Israel and Saudi Arabia all accuse Iran of sponsoring proxy groups across the Middle East in a bid to dominate the region.

In a sign of an apparent thaw between the two countries, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in April that Israelis were entitled to live peacefully on their own land.

Last month, Saudi Arabia opened its air space for the first time to a commercial flight to Israel, a move hailed by an Israeli official as historic following two years of efforts.

Mr Bin Salman recently traveled to the US to continue to warm ties with President Donald Trump. Israel has served as a close ally of the US but its positions differ from Riyadh on the Palestinian issue.

The Saudi government has called for the recognition of a Palestinian state build on the lands that Israel captured in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. That sovereign state would compose of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel has long been suspected of involvement in several high-profile plots, mostly assassinations, in Arab and Middle Eastern nations. One such plot included the 2010 killing of the militant group’s commander Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel. It often denies involvement or refuses to comment on such operations.

The most recent assassination it was accused of directing was the drive-by shooting of a Palestinian scientist in Kuala Lumpur, which prompted what Malaysia's police chief called an "international" issue because the suspects appeared to be either European or Middle Eastern.

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