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Saudi Arabia to host first Hamas delegation in over a decade

Palestinian leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh, to travel to Riyadh on Monday to discuss improving relations after years of tension
Ismail Haniyeh, a senior political leader of the Palestinian movement Hamas and de facto ruler of the besieged Gaza Strip (AFP/File photo)

Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh will visit Saudi Arabia on Monday for the first such visit in years, according to Palestinian media sources.

A senior delegation from the group will head to Riyadh after years of frosty relations with the kingdom, which has arrested many people with ties to the group.

While there has not been official confirmation of the trip from Riyadh, the delegation is expected to hold talks with Saudi officials on a number of Palestinian and regional issues as well as bilateral relations between Hamas and the kingdom. 

According to Palestinian media outlets, the issue of Palestinian detainees in Saudi Arabia will top the agenda of talks.

Following its landmark rapprochement with Iran, Riyadh is looking to also reset its relationship with Hamas. 

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The high-level delegation includes Hamas politburo chief Haniyeh, his deputy, Saleh al-Arouri, and the head of the group abroad, Khaled Meshaal, according to various Palestinian and Arabic-language media outlets. 

The delegation will reportedly first pay a pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site in Mecca.  

'Islamic resistance movement'

Hamas’s relationship with Riyadh has been frosty since 2007, when the group took over the Gaza Strip. Saudi leaders have blamed Hamas for the failure of attempts at reconciliation between it and the Palestinian Authority's ruling Fatah party.

On Saturday, Mousa Abu Marzouk, a member of the Hamas political bureau, went on Twitter to say: “Hamas is not part of any political or military axis, regardless of name and address. We are an Islamic resistance movement, and we seek relations with all living forces in the region and the world.”

The tweet, posted just ahead of a meeting with the Saudi state, was perhaps also meant to assuage the perception in Riyadh that Hamas is too close to Iran. 

Saudi authorities earlier this year released two Palestinians with close ties to Hamas from prison.

Arabic press review: Saudi Arabia frees two jailed Palestinians linked to Hamas
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Suleiman Haddad and his son Yahya Haddad were among nearly 68 Palestinians and Jordanians arrested in 2019 and accused of having links to an unidentified "terrorist organisation". 

The group was tried in mass trials in 2020 and a year later handed prison sentences ranging from six months to 22 years. 

Following the release, Izzat al-Rashq, a member of Hamas’ political bureau thanked the Saudi government, considering it "a significant step in the right direction".

In October last year, Saudi Arabia also released the former representative of Hamas after more than three years in detention. 

Mohammed al-Khudari, 84, was released along with his son, Hani al-Khudari, and deported to Jordan

Saudi Arabia and Hamas have enjoyed a close relationship since the group’s inception more than 30 years ago. A number of its founders and close associates lived in the Gulf kingdom, where large donation campaigns were launched for the movement and its charitable institutions, some with official Saudi blessing.

In recent months, Hamas leaders have sent signals that they would like to mend ties with the kingdom. In turn, Saudi Arabia has released detainees. 

Saudia Arabia's warming of relations with Hamas is also likely to dampen hopes that the kingdom will establish diplomatic relations with Israel. Recent reports in the US media suggest that Riyadh has cooled on the idea amid ongoing violence in the West Bank. 

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