Hamas leader to travel to Saudi Arabia after three-year absence

Mashaal’s visit is the first since King Salman bin Abdel Aziz came to power following the death of the late King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz.

By
July 16, 2015 19:12
1 minute read.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal speaks during an interview with Reuters in Doha

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal speaks during an interview with Reuters in Doha. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal arrived in Saudi Arabia in a surprise visit, the first of its kind in three years and the first since King Salman came to power following the death of King Abdullah.

Some Palestinian political analysts see the two-day visit on Wednesday and Thursday as a sign of improved relations between Hamas and Saudi Arabia under the new monarch.

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Relations between the two sides were strained for many years, especially due to the failure of Saudi and Arab efforts to end the Hamas-Fatah conflict. The Saudis are also believed to have been upset with Hamas’s close ties with Iran.

Mashaal’s visit to Saudi Arabia comes amid reports that Hamas and Israel are engaged in indirect talks to reach a long-term cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

According to the reports, which are mostly emanating from Arab media outlets, Hamas and Israel are also secretly negotiating about holding a new prisoner exchange deal and the removal of the blockade that has been imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2007.

A possible rapprochement between Hamas and Saudi Arabia may also be viewed as a sign that the Islamist movement has decided to distance itself from Iran.

Mashaal, who is heading a senior delegation of Hamas leaders, is expected to discuss several issues with Saudi officials, including ways of improving bilateral relations and the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, a Hamas official said. He said that the two sides are also expected to discuss ways of ending the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah.



Saudi Arabia has in the past acted as a mediator between the two rival parties, but to no avail.

Adnan Abu Amer, a political analyst in the Gaza Strip, said that Mashaal’s visit to Saudi Arabia is “positive by all criteria.” He predicted that the visit would pave the way for ending tensions between the two parties and allow Saudi Arabia to restore its status as a major player in the Palestinian arena.

Yusef Rizka, a senior Hamas official, said that Mashaal’s visit to Saudi Arabia is also aimed at discussing the crisis in Yemen. Rizka was quoted by the Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad as saying that Mashaal is acting as a mediator between the Saudis and the Yemini Party For Reform, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

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