Sudan agrees to Israel overflights


Sudan agreed to allow flights to Israel to cross its airspace, a military spokesman said two days after Sudan’s military head of state held a surprise meeting with Israel’s prime minister.

The meeting in Uganda between Sudan’s Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu stirred controversy in Sudan after Israeli officials said it would lead to normalising relations between the two former foes.

Tensions have risen between the military and civilian groups sharing power after last year’s overthrow of former president Omar al-Bashir. Cabinet held two emergency meetings over the Uganda trip, about which it says it was not informed.

Sudan’s military responded with a rare political statement describing Burhan’s trip to Netanyahu as in “the highest interests of national security and Sudan.”

Sudanese military spokesman Amer Mohamed al-Hassan told Al Jazeera there was an agreement “in principle” for use of Sudan airspace by commercial aircraft travelling from South America to Israel, adding technical aspects of overflights were being studied and Sudan had not agreed to overflights by Israeli carrier El Al.

“Sudan has not announced full normalisation but is exchanging interests,” he said.

Netanyahu previously said opening Sudanese airspace to Israeli civilian aircraft would cut hours off flights to South America, Israel’s fourth-most important travel destination.

That African air corridor would include Egypt and Chad, with which Israel renewed long-severed relations in 2018.

“We are now establishing co-operative relations with Sudan,” Netanyahu said in a campaign speech. “We will overfly Sudan.”

This week’s meeting in Uganda coincided with an announcement Burhan was invited to Washington later this year. It came a week after Netanyahu, who faces an election on March 2, travelled to Washington for the unveiling of President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.

Sudan is striving to rebuild links with the world after decades of isolation under Islamist Bashir and removal from a US list of countries considered state sponsors of terrorism.

Israeli commentators suggest the rapprochement with Khartoum might enable repatriation of thousands of Sudanese who make up around a fifth of illegal migrants and asylum-seekers in Israel. A senior Israeli official played down this prospect.

“No one consulted with me before the trip (by Netanyahu to Uganda) and no one reported to me after the trip. We are not involved in any process I am familiar with,” Shlomo Mor Yosef, head of the Interior Ministry’s immigration authority, told Israel’s Army Radio.