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US State Dept nominee says Saudi-Israel normalization players eager to resume process

FILE PHOTO: Kurt Campbell attends the China Development Forum in Beijing, China March 23, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – There is still willingness among the key players of the U.S.-led talks to normalize ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel to restart the process even after the devastating Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State nominee Kurt Campbell said on Thursday.

“I think we can be carefully encouraged by some of the discussions that we’ve had to date that indicate that there still is a willingness among the key players to restart this process and continue it,” Campbell told senators during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“I think it is understandable that at this moment, some of those discussions are quiet and they are difficult,” Campbell said, adding that Washington’s ultimate goal would be to “entrench Israel diplomatically” in the region.

Saudi Arabia put U.S.-backed plans to normalize ties with Israel on ice, sources familiar with Riyadh’s thinking told Reuters nearly two months ago, as the war between Palestinian militants Hamas and Israeli forces escalated.

Israel unleashed its military campaign in response to a surprise Oct. 7 incursion by Hamas fighters who rampaged through its towns, killing 1,200 people and seizing 240 hostages, according to Israel’s tally.

The country has focused its retaliation against Hamas in Gaza, bombarding it from the air, imposing a siege and launching a ground assault. Gaza’s Health Ministry says that so far more than 17,000 people have been killed in the enclave of 2.3 million.

Until Oct. 7, both Israeli and Saudi leaders had been saying they were moving steadily toward a deal that could have reshaped the Middle East.

U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein, speaking earlier on the sidelines of an event in the United Arab Emirates, said he did not think hope should be lost with regards to normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and it remains a goal for his country despite the war in Gaza.

Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam and home to its two holiest sites, had until the latest conflict indicated it would not allow its pursuit of a U.S. defense pact to be derailed even if Israel did not offer significant concessions to the Palestinians in their bid for statehood, sources had previously said.

But an approach that sidelined Palestinians would risk angering Arabs around the region, as Arab news outlets broadcast images of Palestinians killed in retaliatory Israeli air strikes.

(This story has been refiled to fix a typo in paragraph 8, and to add a dropped word in paragraph 9)

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