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Israel said to send first official delegation to Sudan

Talks on agriculture, trade, aviation and migration reportedly set to begin in Khartoum as part of normalization process

This combination of pictures created on October 23, 2020, shows an Israeli flag during a rally in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on September 19, 2020; and a Sudanese flag during a gathering east of the capital Khartoum on June 3, 2020. (JACK GUEZ and ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)
This combination of pictures created on October 23, 2020, shows an Israeli flag during a rally in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on September 19, 2020; and a Sudanese flag during a gathering east of the capital Khartoum on June 3, 2020. (JACK GUEZ and ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

Israel’s first ever official delegation to Sudan reportedly took off from Ben Gurion Airport Monday on its way to Khartoum for talks between the two countries on the normalization deal announced last month.

The delegation is made up of a small group of government officials and will prepare the groundwork for a larger visit of higher-level Israeli officials in the coming weeks, the Ynet news site reported.

On October 23, US President Donald Trump announced that Sudan would start normalizing ties with Israel, with the two countries set to sign deals covering agriculture, trade, aviation and migration.

Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said at the time that Sudanese and Israeli officials would meet in the following weeks to discuss a package of cooperation deals to “achieve the mutual interests of the two peoples.”

US President Donald Trump speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone about a Sudan-Israel peace agreement, in the Oval Office on October 23, 2020. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

The normalization deal came after Trump said he was moving to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. The delisting opened the door for Sudan to get international loans and aid, which it needs to revive its battered economy and rescue its transition to democracy, following a popular uprising last year that led the military to overthrow longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Sudan’s economy has suffered from decades of US sanctions and mismanagement under al-Bashir. The transitional government has been struggling with a huge budget deficit and widespread shortages of essential goods, including fuel, bread and medicine. Annual inflation soared past 200% last month as prices of bread and other staples surged, according to official figures.

Two days after the normalization deal was announced, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that Israel was sending $5 million worth of wheat to Sudan to help with the economic crisis.

File: Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in south Tel Aviv in 2011 (Nicky Kelvin/Flash90)

Israel and Sudan are also expected to discuss the fate of some 6,000 Sudanese asylum seekers currently in Israel, with Jerusalem reportedly having drawn up a proposal to send back refugees willing to return to their home country.

Asylum seekers from Sudan make up about 20 percent of the 33,000 African migrants currently in Israel.

Sudan is the third Arab state to signal a willingness to normalize ties with Israel in recent months as part of US-brokered deals, following the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

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