Hamas asks Saudis to prevent ‘normalization’ visits to Israel
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Hamas asks Saudis to prevent ‘normalization’ visits to Israel

Request follows rare visit to the Jewish state by high-profile delegation from the kingdom

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

Former Saudi general Dr. Anwar Eshki (center, in striped tie) and other members of his delegation, meet with Israeli Knesset members and others during a visit to Israel on July 22, 2016. (via Twitter)
Former Saudi general Dr. Anwar Eshki (center, in striped tie) and other members of his delegation, meet with Israeli Knesset members and others during a visit to Israel on July 22, 2016. (via Twitter)

Hamas on Sunday asked the Saudi government to prevent “normalization” visits to Israel, following a recent visit by a Saudi delegation which held talks with Israeli officials and MKs in Jerusalem.

Retired Saudi general Anwar Eshki led the delegation of academics and businessmen on an extremely rare visit last week, in a bid to encourage discussion of the Saudi-led peace plan, which would see 57 Arab and Muslim nations normalize ties with Israel after the completion of an agreement with the Palestinians.

In a statement on its website, Hamas, an Islamist terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, called on Saudi Arabia to “take measures to prevent these normalizing visits that [Israel] uses to undermine the rights of Palestinians and penetrate into the [Muslim] nation in thought and culture.”

The statement also expressed appreciation for what Hamas described as growing anger in Saudi Arabia over the former general’s visit to Jerusalem.

Israel's incoming Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold and former Saudi government adviser Anwar Eshki shake hands in Washington DC, June 4, 2015 (Debby Communications Group)
Israel’s incoming Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold and former Saudi government adviser Anwar Eshki shake hands in Washington DC, June 4, 2015 (Debby Communications Group)

Saudi government permission was likely necessary for Eshki and the delegation of Saudi academics and businessmen to make the visit to Israel.

While in Jerusalem, Eshki met with Foreign Ministry Director Dore Gold, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and several Knesset members from the opposition.

The meetings with Gold and Mordechai reportedly did not take place at official Israeli government facilities but at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, the Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper quoted an unnamed Saudi Foreign Ministry official as saying the rare public engagement “does not reflect the views of the Saudi government.”

Saudi Arabia and Israel have no official relations and the kingdom prohibits its citizens from traveling to Israel. It also does not grant visas to Israelis.

While Hamas has publicly continued to support Saudi Arabia and expressed hope for friendly relations with the country, the kingdom has continued to keep the Gaza-based group, considered a terror organization by Israel and much of the Western world, at arm’s length.

At an anti-Iran rally in Paris earlier this month, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief and diplomat, claimed that Tehran was using Hamas and other proxy terror groups to “create chaos” in the Middle East.

AFP contributed to this report.

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