Israeli Muslims traveling to the Saudi city of Mecca to fulfill their religious obligation of making the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime will now be able to fly in organized groups to the nearby Saudi city of Jeddah, via the Jordanian capital Amman, rather than making the journey by bus.
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Up to now, the only arrangements for organized groups of Israeli Muslims making the pilgrimage – or hajj, as it is known in Arabic – were entirely overland by bus via Jordan.
The initial group of 766 air passengers will be traveling on charter flights organized by Milad Aviation of Ramle in late September, using aircraft from Royal Jordanian Airlines and its subsidiary Royal Wings. The round-trip fare is about $600.
“The contacts with the Jordanian and Israeli authorities lasted for about three years, in order to organize the trips for believers from Israel to Saudi Arabia for the first time,” said Ibrahim Milad, the owner and CEO of Milad Aviation. “During that period, I visited Jordan about 100 times to obtain all the necessary approvals.”
Milad’s company plans to arrange air arrangements throughout the year, he said, adding that about 4,000 Israeli Muslims a year make the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
The Jordanian government had sought to increase weekly capacity on flights between Tel Aviv and Amman from the current 1,500 to 1,700, but Israel declined the request. Many Israelis have been using the Royal Jordanian service via Amman to connect to other destinations around the world. After the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hamas and its allies in Gaza in July, Royal Jordanian suspended the service, but flights have since resumed. Israel’s Arkia Airlines also flies the Tel Aviv-Amman route.