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RIYADH: The outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas risks hardening anti-Israel sentiment in Saudi Arabia, which Washington has spent months trying to coax into a landmark normalisation deal.

Saturday’s surprise attack by Hamas militants and the Israeli military’s response disrupted speculation about a possible breakthrough that could reorder the Middle East, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman telling Fox News last month that “every day we get closer”.

Public visits by two Israeli government ministers to the Saudi capital generated even more buzz, even as some ordinary Saudis made clear their staunch disapproval of warming ties.

Days before fighting began, Mohammed Bandar, a 20-year-old university student, told AFP he opposed normalisation because of Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinian Territories. “To take their money and lands and take the greatest symbol of Islam, which is Al-Aqsa mosque (in Jerusalem), I see this as an occupation,” he said.

With Israel now unleashing thousands of air strikes and vowing a “total siege” of the Gaza Strip, such views are only going to intensify, said Mohammed, a retired engineer in his fifties who agreed to be identified only by his first name because of the sensitivity of the topic.

“Normalisation is now in the drawer,” he said while sipping coffee at a cafe in south Riyadh. “I cannot imagine Saudi Arabia announcing normalisation with Israel while there is continuous bombing of the Palestinians. Impossible.”

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, has never recognised Israel and did not join the 2020 Abraham Accords that saw its Gulf neighbours Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates as well as Morocco establish formal ties with Israel.

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