Abbas says Palestinians ‘stand alongside’ Saudis in face of attacks
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Abbas says Palestinians ‘stand alongside’ Saudis in face of attacks

In meeting with Saudi Crown Prince, PA president appears to take sides with Riyadh against Iran

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) meets with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh on November 7, 2017. (Thaer Ghanaim/Wafa)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) meets with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh on November 7, 2017. (Thaer Ghanaim/Wafa)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met Wednesday with the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Riyadh, telling him that the Palestinian leadership supports Saudi Arabia after a recent missile attack.

“The Palestinian leadership, as well as the Palestinian people, stand alongside the Arab Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the face of attacks,” Abbas said, according to the official PA news site Wafa.

Abbas and the Crown Prince also discussed Palestinian reconciliation, American efforts to move the peace process forward and ways to improve bilateral ties.

The meeting comes a day after the PA president met with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, in which similar issues were discussed.

Saudi Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman in Moscow’s Kremlin, Russia, May 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, pool, File)

On Saturday Yemeni rebels fired a missile more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) to near Riyadh international airport, where it was intercepted and destroyed by Saudi air defenses.

The Crown Prince blamed Iran for arming the Yemeni rebels with the missile, and said it may “constitute an act of war.”

Saudi Arabia and Iran are currently locked in a battle for regional hegemony, and blame each other for spreading extremism throughout the Middle East.

The Saudis also said on Monday that Lebanon is considered to have declared war on the Gulf kingdom, due to political hegemony of the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah in the small Mediterranean country.

In Abbas’s meeting with the Saudi King on Monday, the monarch affirmed his government’s long-standing support for the Palestinians in international forums, and its commitment to provide “all that is required to bring about the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh on November 7, 2017. (Thaer Ghanaim / Wafa)

In the Wafa report of Abbas’s meeting with the Crown Prince, no such similar statement about Saudi support for an independent Palestinian state was given, and no pictures of the meeting between Abbas and the Crown Prince were published by either side.

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser, Jared Kushner, paid a secret visit to Saudi Arabia last month in his latest effort to restart Mideast peace talks.

Despite many meetings between US officials from the current administration with Israelis and Palestinians, Washington has yet to clarify how it intends to return both sides to the negotiating table since talks broke down in 2014.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, meets with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh on November 7, 2017. (Thaer Ghanaim/Wafa)

Abbas was unexpectedly summoned to Riyadh on Monday, just as the Gulf kingdom was at the height of a major crackdown on members of the royal family.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia’s heir to the throne oversaw an unprecedented wave of arrests of dozens of the country’s most powerful princes, military officers, businessmen and government ministers. Some of them are potential rivals or critics of the crown prince, whose purported anti-corruption sweep sent shockwaves across the kingdom Sunday as he further consolidated power.

Abbas’s Fatah party, which dominates the Palestinian Authority, is currently in negotiations with Hamas to bring the PA’s rule back to the Gaza Strip by December 1. Hamas took control of the Strip in a violent conflict with Fatah in 2007.

Abbas’s visit to Riyadh comes after Hamas last week handed the PA control of all the Gaza Strip border crossings, in a test of a reconciliation accord signed last month under the auspices of Egypt.

Senior Hamas officials last week met and spoke with Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, and the two terror groups have said they share the same goals.

In recent months, Hamas has publicly flaunted its burgeoning ties with Iran, and the Islamic Republic has in turn sworn to increase its military backing of the Gaza-based terror group.

On Saturday, a high-profile Hamas delegation visited Tehran for the second time in recent weeks, in order to attend a memorial service for the father of Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force.

Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri (2nd-R) meets with Iranian official Hossein Amir Abdollahian (R) and other Hamas operatives in Lebanon on August 1, 2017. (Official Hamas media)

On Monday, the London-based Pan-Arab newspaper Al-Rai quoted Palestinian sources who said that Abbas had been summoned to Riyadh so the Saudis could ask him to join an anti-Hezbollah coalition.

Also on Monday, Abbas met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Sharm el-Sheikh, who said he remains committed to bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

AFP contributed to this report. 

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