Sudan's leader says Israel playing key role in removing country from US terror blacklist

Sudan's leader says Israel playing key role in removing country from US terror blacklist
Sudan's leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan justified his controversial meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
4 min read
14 February, 2020
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan met Prime Minister Netanyahu in Nigeria [AFP/Getty]
Sudan's military head of state said Israel has a key role to play in removing the country from a US blacklist for state sponsors of terror, in comments to Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.

Sudan's General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan discussed Israel's role in the matter to justify his controversial meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month. 

Damning reports revealed a previously unannounced secret meeting between Burhan and Netanyahu that appeared to signal an end to Sudan's long-standing boycott of Israel

Soon after their meeting, Netanyahu announced that the two leaders had agreed to cooperate towards normalising ties.

While Burhan has denied reports of normalisation, his comments to Asharq al-Awsat suggest otherwise. He told the newspaper such a move would be "within the framework of Sudan's efforts for its national and security interests".

Burhan added a committee would be formed to discuss relations between the two countries, claiming only "limited ideological groups" in the country opposed the move.

A spokesman for Sudan's armed forces echoed Burhan's sentiments last week. Amer Mohammed al-Hassan said the goal of Burhan's meeting with Netanyahu was to remove Sudan from the US terror list.

Sudan's inclusion on the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list dates back to the 1990s and exposes it to certain sanctions. The country's transitional government is desperate to be removed from the list so that it can make progress on healing the debilitated economy.

'No Burhan'

Hundreds of Sudanese protesters gathered in the capital Khartoum last week to denounce what was described as "normalisation with the Zionist entity".

"No, no, no Burhan, we do not recognise this entity," protesters chanted in unification during the post-Friday prayers rally in the capital, referring to General Burhan, who heads Sudan's ruling sovereign council.

Read more: Sudan's rapprochement with Israel exposes weakness of democratic transition

The demonstrations were just the latest in a series of public anger over reports of the previously unannounced talks in Entebbe.

Sudanese military spokesman Amer Mohamed al-Hassan told Al-Jazeera last week that there was an agreement "in principle" for commercial aircraft travelling from South America to Israel to use Sudan's airspace.

He said that technical aspects of the overflights were being studied and Sudan had not agreed to flights by Israel's national carrier El Al.

Netanyahu has previously expressed interest in opening Sudanese airspace as it would cut hours off flight times from Israel to South America, the fourth most popular destination for Israelis.

Sudan's transitional cabinet has said that meeting Netanyahu was Burhan's "personal initiative" and he had made no promises to the Israeli premier.

"The chief of the sovereign council told us... he did not give any commitment and did not talk of normalising relations," government spokesman Faisal Mohamed Salih told reporters early on Thursday.

"He did not give a promise of normalising or having diplomatic relations."

Salih said the issue of relations with Israel was something the current transitional government was not mandated to decide.

"This government has a very limited mandate. The issue of relations with Israel is beyond its mandate," he said.

The transitional government headed by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was formed months after the ouster of longtime despot Omar Al-Bashir amid nationwide protests in April last year.

Burhan heads the ruling sovereign council, a joint civilian and military body tasked with overseeing the country's transition to civilian rule.

Sudanese top brass have backed Burhan's initiative in holding the meeting, saying it will help boost national security. The cabinet says it was not informed of the meeting in advance.

Read more: Power and politics: Israel makes new inroads into Africa

In 2018, Israel renewed long-severed ties with Chad, who together with Egypt and Sudan form an African air corridor for flights.

"With Sudan we are now establishing cooperative relations," Netanyahu said in a campaign speech. "We will overfly Sudan."

Sudan has long been part of a decades-old Arab boycott of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians and its occupation of Arab lands.

In the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967 in which Israel occupied the Palestinian territories and seized the Golan Heights from Syria, Arab leaders held a historic meeting in Khartoum to announce what became known as the 'three nos' - no peace, no recognition, no negotiations with Israel.

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