Saudi releases eight Hamas members after Meshaal visit

#Diplomacy

Hamas dismisses Iranian media report that Saudi Arabia requested 700 fighters to join anti-Houthi militia campaign in Yemen as 'lies'

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal performs Umrah in the holy city of Mecca on 2 September 2007 (AFP)
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Last update: 
Monday 20 July 2015 20:22 UTC
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Saudi Arabia has released eight Hamas members who were held for months in the kingdom for political campaigning, a senior official of the Palestinian movement was quoted as saying on Monday.

The released members had been "raising funds to support public work and activism for the [Palestinian] movement," Mahmoud al-Zahhar, member of Hamas's political bureau in Gaza, told the Egyptian daily El-Watan News.  

Prior to Zahhar's statement, a number of Arab media outlets had reported on the release of the Palestinians, citing unnamed Hamas officials, but without confirmation from Riyadh. Until recently, neither side appeared to acknowledge the arrests.  

The release of the Palestinians, who were reportedly held during the last days of the reign of former Saudi King Abdullah some eight months ago, came following a rare meeting by Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal with Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Riyadh on Friday.

The Hamas-Saudi meeting, the first in a number of years, is seen as part of a rapprochement drive between the Palestinian movement and Riyadh, following the death of King Abdullah in January 2015.

"The delegation discussed Palestinian unity and the political situation in the region. This meeting will hopefully develop relations between Hamas and Saudi Arabia," a Hamas source told Reuters on Friday.

Also reportedly on the agenda were the ties between Hamas and the Egyptian government, following the July 2013 military overthrow of elected President Mohamed Morsi, which has impacted the opening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

"The causes of the current Meshaal visit to Riyadh lies in the Palestinian-Palestinian reconciliation, mediation and Saudi Arabia calling for the return of the relationship with Cairo and the opening of the Rafah crossing, and coordination of the post-Iranian nuclear deal," a Hamas leader, who requested anonymity, told MEE.

Iranian media 'lies'

However, the visit remains shrouded in a number of speculations and unconfirmed reports.

The semi-official Iranian Fars news agency, citing a Saudi dissident tweeter, claimed that Riyadh had requested 700 fighters from Hamas to take part in the Saudi-led offensive against Houthi militia in Yemen.

The Iranian report was officially dismissed by Hamas as "lies" that "aim to perplex the outcome of Hamas's successful visit to Saudi Arabia, and an attempt to incite against the movement," read a 19 July statement by the Palestinian group.

Hamas's visit was viewed by the Lebanese pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar newspaper as signalling a further rift with Iran, in an article titled 'Hamas moves one step closer to Riyadh, two steps away from Tehran'.

The visit "has placed the [Hamas] movement, directly or indirectly, in the Arab group that is hostile towards Tehran, especially in the absence of a press release or a public statement of congratulations" regarding Iran's nuclear deal, the Lebanese paper noted.