ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 66

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Abbas to meet Saudi Arabian leader, with Hamas delegation also said to be in kingdom

Official Palestinian news agency says two will discuss regional developments and strengthening of PA ties with Riyadh, which has been moving away from normalization with Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) is met by Prince Badr bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) at the airport in Jeddah, April 17, 2023 (Wafa)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) is met by Prince Badr bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) at the airport in Jeddah, April 17, 2023 (Wafa)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has arrived in Saudi Arabia on an official trip that will see him meet with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on Tuesday.

The PA’s official Wafa news agency said the two were set to “discuss the latest developments of the Palestinian cause and the situation in the region, and to strengthen the Palestinian-Saudi relations.”

According to reports, Abbas was accompanied on the trip by Fatah Secretary General Hussein Al-Sheikh and intelligence service head Maj. Gen. Majed Faraj.

The Al-Quds daily, cited by Wafa, said that Abbas’s visit to Saudi Arabia coincided with that of a senior Hamas delegation headed by politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh.

The visit by senior officials from the terror group was not confirmed by either Hamas or Riyadh.

A trip by a senior delegation representing the Palestinian terror group would represent a major development as Israel’s hopes of forging official ties with Riyadh appear to dwindle further.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks during a press conference after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, June 28, 2021. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Official Government via AP)

Following the landmark Saudi rapprochement with Iran, it was first reported Sunday that Riyadh was to host a high-level Hamas delegation including Haniyeh; his deputy Saleh al-Arouri; and the head of the group abroad, Khaled Mashaal, according to various Palestinian and Arabic-language media outlets, including Jordan’s Al Ghad and the London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

The delegation will reportedly pay a pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site in Mecca and try to mend Hamas’s relationship with Riyadh, which has been frosty since the bloody coup in 2007 when the terror group overthrew the Palestinian Authority and took over Gazap. Saudi leaders had blamed Hamas for the failure of attempts at reconciliation between Hamas and the PA’s Fatah party.

In 2019, Saudi authorities arrested dozens of Hamas-linked operatives, saying they were threatening the kingdom’s rule.

In recent months, after Hamas leaders sent messages that they would like to mend ties with the kingdom, Saudi Arabia has released many of those detainees, including senior member Mohammad Al-Khodary, who was freed in October.

In this picture released by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, right, meets with his Saudi Arabian counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in Beijing Thursday, April 6, 2023. (Iranian Foreign Ministry via AP)

Last week, US media reported that Saudi Arabia’s interest in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel had cooled in recent months amid ongoing violence in the West Bank and clashes at the flashpoint Temple Mount site.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prioritized including the kingdom in the 2020 Abraham Accords upon his return to office in December, but Riyadh and other Muslim nations have become reluctant to openly advance a deal due to spiking Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Israeli and Gulf officials told The Wall Street Journal.

Notably, a plan brokered by Washington to schedule direct flights from Tel Aviv to Mecca, allowing Israel’s Muslim citizens to more easily take part in the sacred Hajj pilgrimage, is unlikely to be finalized, Israeli officials told the paper.

The US-brokered Abraham Accords saw the kingdom’s neighbors the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain establish full diplomatic ties with Israel.

In 2022, hopes for deepening ties with Riyadh peaked when the kingdom allowed Israeli civilian flights to pass over its airspace.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises Muslim voters that he will ensure that there are direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia, March 23, 2021 (screen capture)

Since the establishment of Netanyahu’s hardline right-wing government, the Saudis have issued several condemnations against Israel over West Bank settlement expansion and violent confrontations between Israeli troops and Palestinians, and called comments by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich calling to “wipe out” the town of Huwara “racist and irresponsible.”

The comments were made in the wake of a terror attack in February that killed two Israeli brothers in the West Bank town, which was followed by a violent rampage by Israeli settlers in Huwara in which a Palestinian was killed.

Shortly before being sworn in, Netanyahu said a normalization deal with the Saudis could serve as a “quantum leap” for long-moribund peace talks with the Palestinians.

The two countries were also interested in aligning against their common regional rival Iran. However, the recent rapprochement deal between Riyadh and Tehran is further complicating efforts.

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