Palestine’s Abbas in Saudi Arabia for King Salman, MBS meetings

Al-Jazeera  /  April 18, 2023

Abbas’s visit coincides with the arrival of a delegation from his rival Hamas to Saudi Arabia.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is in Riyadh for meetings with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), with reports that a delegation from the rival Palestinian force Hamas is also in the country.

Abbas arrived on Monday but the meetings are scheduled for Tuesday evening, with discussions expected to focus on the continuing violence in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

Abbas’s visit to Saudi Arabia coincides with a senior Hamas delegation’s arrival in the kingdom, headed by politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh, according to Palestinian media reports.

Hamas’ visit was not confirmed by the group, which controls the besieged Gaza Strip after forcing Abbas’s Fatah out in 2007, despite requests from Al Jazeera for comment.

Saudi Arabia has also not commented on the reported visit.

But, according to the Palestinian media reports, the Hamas delegation will hold talks with Saudi officials on a number of Palestinian and regional issues, as well as discussing bilateral relations between Hamas and Saudi Arabia.

The issue of Hamas-affiliated detainees held in Saudi Arabia is reportedly at the top of the agenda of talks between the two sides.

If the meeting is confirmed it could mark an important step on the path to restore ties between Saudi Arabia and Hamas after years of tension.

The meeting would also disappoint Israel, which has been attempting to establish ties with Saudi Arabia for a number of years.

The last Hamas visit to Saudi Arabia was in 2015, when former group leader Khaled Meshaal met the late King Abdullah and senior Saudi officials.

In August 2021, a Saudi court sentenced 69 Palestinian and Jordanian nationals to jail terms over accusations of links to Hamas.

Riyadh, however, has released most of the detainees in recent months, including Hamas’ former representative to the kingdom Mohammad al-Khudary.

Last September, Haniyeh said that his movement was trying to mend relations with Saudi Arabia, but that undefined third parties were trying to stop that from happening.

Haniyeh added that Hamas had been working to restore ties with Saudi Arabia and Jordan after the group re-established diplomatic ties with the Syrian government.

Hamas, with its close relationship to Iran and its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, has had poor relations with Saudi Arabia for the past decade.

However, a recent rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and a general effort from Riyadh to mend ties with its regional rivals, has opened the door to a new chapter with Hamas.