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Saudi Arabia releases former Hamas representative from prison

Palestinian group hopes Riyadh will release 68 other affiliates still detained in the kingdom
Mohammed al-Khudari (right) on a plane heading to Jordan from Saudi Arabia, on 19 October 2022 (Twitter)

Saudi Arabia has released the former representative of the Palestinian movement Hamas after more than three years in detention. 

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

The announcement was made by Izzat al-Rashq, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, on Twitter, in which he thanked Jordan for accepting Khudari and Saudi Arabia for releasing him. 

Rashq said he spoke to Khudari on the plane that was taking him to Amman. 

“We highly appreciate the decision of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to release Dr Mohammed al-Khudari, the former representative of the movement to the Kingdom. We hope this step will help open a new page and lead to the release of the remaining detainees,” Rashq said. 

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Saudi Arabia arrested 68 Palestinians and Jordanians in 2019 as the kingdom's relations with Israel warmed. They were accused of having links to an unidentified "terrorist organisation" and were tried in 2020 in mass trials. In 2021 they were handed prison sentences ranging from six months to 22 years. 

The trials have been marred by claims of abuse

UN: Palestinians detained in Saudi Arabia are held arbitrarily and should be released
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Last year, the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said it had determined that Mohammed and Hani al-Khudari were arbitrarily detained and that their fundamental human rights were violated, and called for their immediate release.

According to a 16-page ruling, the Saudi government failed to establish a legal basis for the Khudaris' arrest and violated their right to a fair trial.

In March, Amnesty International said that Khudari’s life was “at serious risk in prison”. 

The group said he was denied adequate medical care for his advanced prostate cancer and urged Riyadh to release him and his son immediately, since both of their sentences ended on 28 February.

Last month, Saudi authorities deported Khudari’s wife to Jordan in preparation for his release, according to Palestinian media. 

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 the official Saudi blessing.

However, ties began to falter in 2007 after Palestinian infighting between Hamas and its rival, Fatah, which was criticised by Riyadh.

The arrests in 2019 marked a sharp shift in the relationship between Riyadh and Hamas, coinciding with the rise of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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