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Saudi Arabia detains more Palestinians in latest arrest campaign

The arrests come a year since the Gulf kingdom first started cracking down on Palestinian residents with alleged or confirmed ties to the Hamas movement
Mohammed al-Khoudary and his eldest son Hani have been detained by Saudi authorities since April (Screengrab)
By Adam Khalil in Gaza City, besieged Gaza Strip

Saudi security forces have launched a new wave of arrests of Palestinians living in the Gulf kingdom, sources told Middle East Eye.

Sources in the Palestinian community in Saudi Arabia said Saudi authorities had arrested dozens of people since 10 February, the majority being children and relatives of those arrested in earlier waves of arrests since February 2019.

On 12 February, Prisoners of Conscience - a group which denounces Saudi incarceration of individuals for political reasons - was the first to report on social media the latest arrests.

A Palestinian citizen living in the Saudi city of Jeddah told MEE on condition of anonymity that Palestinians were currently living in a state of anxiety and terror in the Gulf country.

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"Everyone has become concerned that the arrest campaign will target them, in light of a situation of extreme incitement against Palestinians, which has escalated since the appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Salman as crown prince," she said.

Since its inception more than 30 years ago, Hamas has been keen to preserve a balanced relationship with Saudi Arabia despite the two sides’ differing policies on various issues over the past decade - but bin Salman’s rise as crown prince has been accompanied by unprecedented Saudi overtures to Israel.

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The woman added that she knew a number of Palestinians who had left Saudi soil before the first arrests campaign in anticipation of the changing atmosphere in the country. She added that others, fearing arrest, have since left the country illegally through the land border with Yemen, and settled in other countries.

While the Geneva based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor has reported that some 60 Palestinians have been detained by Saudi Arabia in the past year, others estimate that the number is much higher.

Saudi Arabia detained a dozen Palestinians in February 2019, before launching another campaign in April which saw dozens of Palestinian businessmen, academics and students arrested.

An official source from the Hamas movement in the besieged Gaza Strip, who requested not to be identified, stressed that the majority of the detainees were Hamas members.

The official said those arrested had resided in Saudi Arabia for decades, arguing their detentions were unjustified and accusing Saudi Arabia of “now targeting everyone who is linked with resistance” against the Israeli occupation.

Court hearing

In September, Hamas revealed in an official statement that one of the most prominent detainees was veteran Hamas middleman Mohammed Saleh al-Khoudary, 82, who had been responsible for managing the relationship with Saudi Arabia for two decades.

Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Hazem Qassem, said the Palestinian movement had contacted several unspecified parties and diplomatic contacts over the past few months in order to resolve the situation, to no avail.

'He does not deserve to end his life in this humiliating way'

- Abdul Majid Khoudary, brother of Mohammed Saleh al-Khoudary

The new arrests coincide with news that Khoudary and his eldest son, Hani Khoudary, would be among 14 other prisoners to stand in front of the Riyadh criminal court next month.

Khoudary's brother Abdul Majid, who lives in Gaza, said that his brother and nephew's lawyer had yet to be informed of what charges were being levied against them, adding that the indictment would only be announced on the first day of the trial.

Abdul Majid Khoudary said his brother had been in Saudi Arabia for three decades serving as an “ambassador of Hamas” with a close relationship to Saudi authorities, adding that his sons were born in the country.

He expressed concern that his brother has been held in solitary confinement in Dhahban prison for some three months, only being allowed a family visit for the first time in July for only an hour.

“He does not deserve to end his life in this humiliating way,” Abdul Majid told MEE.

According to Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, Saudi Arabia holds thousands of prisoners, including many on political grounds, in Dhahban, where human rights activists say many detainees are subjected to torture, humiliation and abuse.

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