Oman defends hosting Netanyahu amid outrage over Israel's record
Oman has defended hosting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for a controversial short visit, arguing that Jewish state is a key player in the region.
Oman's foreign minister Yousef bin Alawi made the comments in an interview with Al Jazeera on Friday.
"Is he banned? No one is banned from visiting," Alawi responded when asked why Oman allowed Netanyahu to visit the Gulf state.
"The reason is the state of Israel is one of the states in the Middle East and the Israeli prime minister expressed interest in visiting the Sultanate to present to his Majesty what he thinks is in the best interests of the Middle East, in particular, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - so this was welcomed," he said.
The visit, which has only announced on Friday, was criticised by many pro-Palestine activists and media outlets.
"Netanyahu kills in Gaza… and smiles in Muscat," read a headline in pan-Arab news website Arabi21, referring to the killing of five Gazans on Friday by Israeli sniper fire.
When asked about the timing of the visit, the top diplomat said: "The timing would be appropriate at any time… we think that Palestinians must obtain a two-state solution and live alongside the Israelis."
Netanyahu has made the first visit to Oman by an Israeli premier in over 20 years on Thursday - in an apparent sign of growing regional ties.
The surprise meeting with Oman's Sultan Qaboos was kept secret until Netanyahu's return home. It comes despite the two nations having no diplomatic ties.
Oman's state broadcaster showed Netanyahu and his delegation walking alongside Sultan Qaboos - who has rarely been seen in recent pictures - and other Omani officials in traditional garb.
Netanyahu's rare visit to the Gulf state comes amid a sustained period of what analysts say is a warming in relations between Israel and several Arab states.
In August, Israel's prime minister said that a "normalisation" of relations with Arab states could lead to Middle East peace, as the region now faces an emboldened Iran.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas also visited Oman this week.