Avoiding Khashoggi case, Saudi king says Palestinians ‘top priority’

Avoiding Khashoggi case, Saudi king says Palestinians ‘top priority’

In first remarks since murder of dissident journalist, King Salman makes no mention of accusations his son ordered brutal slaying

King Salman attends a swearing-in ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on November 6, 2017. (Saudi Press Agency, via AP)
King Salman attends a swearing-in ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on November 6, 2017. (Saudi Press Agency, via AP)

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Monday highlighted his concern for the Palestinians in an annual televised speech that noticeably made no direct mention of the murder of dissident Saudi journalist that has tipped the country into one of its worst international crises.

In his first public remarks since Jamal Khashoggi’s killing by Saudi agents last month, the king expressed support for his son, the crown prince, who as been accused of ordering the murder at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

Instead, Salman’s annual remarks to the Shura Council — outlining the kingdom’s priorities for the coming year — focused on the war in Yemen, security for Palestinians, stability in the oil market and countering rival Iran.

The king said the Palestinian issue would remain a “top priority for the kingdom,” until they “get their rights,” according to Saudi news outlets.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is thought to be a key piece to US attempts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, though the scandal surrounding Khashoggi’s killing has thrown a shadow over those efforts.

Salman also accused Iran of sponsoring terrorism in the region, and called on the international community to counter Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.

“The Iranian regime has consistently intervened in the affairs of other states and sponsored terrorism, sowing chaos and destruction in many countries,” he said, according to the reports.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives at the Future Investment Initiative conference in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on October 24, 2018. (AFP/Guiseppe Cacace)

Salman also called for a political solution in Yemen that would “resolve its crisis, expel terrorist groups and put an end to foreign interference.”

The 82-year-old monarch did not directly address the murder of The Washington Post columnist in his speech, but did heap praise on the Saudi judiciary. He lauded the judiciary and public prosecutors for “carrying out their duty in the service of justice.”

Last week, the Saudi public prosecutor announced indictments against 11 people and said a total of 21 individuals were in custody in connection with Khashoggi’s murder.

In a statement, he said execution would be recommended for five of them who “are charged with ordering and committing the crime.”

People hold posters picturing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and candles during a gathering outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, on October 25, 2018. (AFP/Yasin Akgul)

The public prosecutor also exonerated the powerful crown prince of involvement in the murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, but the Central Intelligence Agency and other US agencies have reportedly concluded that he ordered the assassination.

US President Donald Trump, who has praised Saudi Arabia as a “truly spectacular ally,” has refrained from blaming Prince Mohammed despite the reported CIA assessment.

Saudi Arabia — which quickly dismissed the reported CIA findings — has offered shifting accounts of what happened, initially saying Khashoggi left the embassy after receiving his documents and later that he was killed when an argument degenerated into a fistfight.

In the latest version, the Saudi prosecutor said a 15-member team went to Istanbul to bring Khashoggi back to the kingdom “by means of persuasion,” but killed him instead in a rogue operation.

US President Donald Trump (center left) and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman (center right) arrive for the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

The United States has sanctioned 17 Saudis for the crime, including close aides of Prince Mohammed, and is set to make final conclusions this week over the killing.

In a sign of further international pressure, Germany on Monday said it will bar 18 Saudis from entering its territory and Europe’s Schengen passport-free zone over their alleged links to the murder.

AFP contributed to this report.

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