Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) condemned over the weekend the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen, drawing sharp criticism from Arabs in the Gulf.
Several writers and political analysts from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain responded by launching a scathing attack on the Palestinian groups in particular and the Palestinians in general for allegedly supporting the Iranian-backed Houthi militia in Yemen, which has launched drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Tensions between the Palestinians and the Gulf countries escalated after the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain in 2020.
The Palestinian Authority, Hamas, PIJ and other Palestinian factions condemned the “normalization” agreements with Israel and accused the Gulf states of “betraying” the Palestinians. Many Gulf Arabs responded by accusing the Palestinians of being “ungrateful.”
Like the Houthi militia, which controls large portions of territory in Yemen, Hamas and PIJ are backed by Iran. The Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist group is also funded and armed by Iran.
The PFLP, the second largest faction of the PLO after the ruling Fatah faction headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, is a secular Palestinian Marxist-Leninist organization that also has close ties with Tehran.
The PA has thus far refrained from commenting on the airstrikes in Yemen, apparently to avoid exacerbating tensions with the Gulf states.
The PA has also failed to condemn the drone and missile attacks launched by the Houthi militia against Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The three radical Palestinian groups (Hamas, PIJ and PFLP) were reacting to an airstrike launched by the Saudi-led coalition last week on a detention center in the northern Yemeni city of Sa’ada, which reportedly killed 70 people and injured 130 others.
In an interview with the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen TV on Friday, senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar denounced Saudi Arabia and the UAE as “Arab Zionists” and accused them of committing “crimes” against the people of Yemen.
“I advise them to return to their religion,” Zahar told the Beirut-based television station. “They are the ultimate losers.”
The Gaza-based Zahar accused the Saudis and Emiratis of aligning themselves with the “Western Crusaders.” The Yemeni people, he stressed, have the right to defend themselves against the “aggression by all means.”
Zahar was the only Hamas official to publicly comment on the Saudi-led coalition airstrike on Yemen. Hamas did not issue any response to the events in Yemen, apparently as part of its effort to improve its relations with Saudi Arabia.
In the past few years, Saudi authorities have arrested dozens of Hamas leaders and activists in the kingdom on charges of belonging to the terrorist group and collecting donations for it. Hamas has repeatedly appealed to the Saudis to release the detainees.
PIJ said in a statement that it “condemns in the strongest terms the crimes committed by the so-called Arab coalition against the Muslim Arab people in Yemen.”
The statement said, “The deliberate targeting of civilians in Yemen by American planes, and perhaps with the participation of the Zionist enemy planes, is evidence of the failure of this aggression.”
The PIJ expressed “solidarity with the Yemeni people in the face of the unjust aggression in all its forms.”
THE PFLP, for its part, condemned “the heinous massacre committed by the Saudi-led coalition on the central prison in Sa’ada” and expressed full solidarity with the families of the victims and the Yemeni people.
“Yemen, with its legendary steadfastness, will eventually defeat the aggression,” the PFLP said.
The statements by Zahar and the two Palestinian groups were interpreted by several Arabs in the Gulf as an expression of support for the Houthi drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Last week, the Houthis attacked the UAE with missiles and drones, killing three people and causing a fire near Abu Dhabi Airport. The militia has launched similar attacks on various targets in Saudi Arabia in the past few years.
Ahdeya Ahmed al-Sayed, former president of the Bahraini Journalists Association, told The Jerusalem Post that Zahar is a “terrorist.”
Zahar’s statements condemning Saudi Arabia and the UAE were “expected, since all terrorist entities work together on one front against the stability of the two countries,” she said.
Noting that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is based in Qatar, Sayed added, “From his home in Qatar, Haniyeh supports attacks on Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel. Haniyeh and Zahar represent the same entity that was recently designated by Britain as terrorists. Terrorist supporters are themselves terrorists. Their support for the Houthis was expected. They all know that the international community will go after them. They know that the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the final straw that will lead them to crumble. The region will soon be freed from the Houthis, Hezbollah, the Ayatollah regime and all the evil powers.”
Abdulla al-Junaid, a prominent Bahraini commentator and columnist, told the Post that Hamas and PIJ “benefit from Tehran’s political and financial support, and that’s why their support of the Houthis and Hezbollah is unconditional.”
Junaid pointed out that Hamas and PIJ have always been hostile toward the Gulf states and the Abraham Accords.
“The same can be said about the Palestinian Authority when it comes to the Abraham Accords,” he said. “The Houthis are a terrorist organization, and neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad will change that fact.”
Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, deputy chief of police and general security in Dubai, tweeted to his three million followers that Zahar, the Hamas leader, should be included in the UAE’s “international wanted list.”
إدراج محمود الزهار على قائمة المطلوبين الدوليين للإمارات..أمر يحتمه القانون.— ضاحي خلفان تميم (@Dhahi_Khalfan) January 21, 2022
Emirati media personality Ali Khalifa pointed out that Zahar’s statements serve as a reminder of the Palestinians’ support for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, a move that led to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the county and other Gulf states.
“August 1990 has returned to prove once again that the Palestinian leaders remain malicious, hateful and envious,” Khalifa wrote on Twitter, referring to the August 2, 1990, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
أغسطس 1990 يعود ويبرهن من جديد ان القيادات الفلسطينية نفس خبيث حاقد حاسد واحد لا يتغير .. مثالنا المتجدد اليوم فردة الكندره القيادي في حركة #حماس #محمود_الزهار وحديثه الذي رضعه من ثدي الارهاب والتطرف ، نحن فى غنى عنكم وعن شجبكم و استنكاركم واشرب من بحر غزه pic.twitter.com/wilmR1EW43— Ali Khalifa (@Bu3osha) January 22, 2022
Saudi journalist Ghazy al-Harthy wrote that the leader of Hamas, a group classified as a terrorist organization by the US and Britain, has “implicitly” called on the Yemenis to attack Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “This, development, which is not new, again sheds light on the policy of Iran’s tools in the region against moderate Arab countries,” Harthy remarked.
القيادي في حركة #حماس -المصنّفة كمنظمة إرهابية في الولايات المتحدة وبريطانيا- #محمود_الزهار، يدعو اليمنيين، ضمنيًّا، للإعتداء على #السعودية و #الامارات ودول التحالف العربي، في تطور ليس بجديد يُعيد تسليط الضوء على سياسة التخادم بين أدوات #ايران في المنطقة ضد دول الإعتدال العربي. pic.twitter.com/YHExXY2jHA— غازي الحارثي | Ghazy (@Ghaazey) January 21, 2022
Fatah spokesperson Hussein Hamayel condemned Zahar’s remarks.
“The entire Palestinian people are against these statements and against involving the Palestinians in issues with partisan, personal and financial agendas,” Hamayel told the Erem News website. “Zahar’s statements represent a great loss for the Palestinian people and deviate from the central issue of the Palestinians, which is ending the Israeli occupation.”