Palestinian Authority sides with Saudis in Iran spat
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Palestinian Authority sides with Saudis in Iran spat

After execution of leading Shiite cleric, Sunni Arab states line up behind Riyadh against long-time rival Tehran

Lee Gancman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Basem Al-Agha, Palestinian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, meets Saudi deputy prime minister Muqrin bin Abdulaziz on February 10, 2014. (screen capture: YouTube)
Basem Al-Agha, Palestinian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, meets Saudi deputy prime minister Muqrin bin Abdulaziz on February 10, 2014. (screen capture: YouTube)

The Palestinian Authority is standing behind Saudi Arabia in the current political row with Iran, Ramallah’s envoy to the desert kingdom told a leading Arab daily.

In an interview Wednesday with the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Palestinian ambassador Basem Al-Agha said that his government’s position has been clear from the outset, and that when it came to Saudi sovereignty and security, it stood firmly on the side of Riyadh.

“The Iranian government doesn’t support the Palestinian Authority, which is at the forefront of confronting the Israeli enemy,” he said. Al-Agha went on to say that “the Palestinians have suffered from Iran’s actions and strange behaviors, which aim to undermine the legitimate Palestinian powers and to create ‘conglomerates’ against these legitimate powers.”

Al-Agha’s accusations refer to Iran’s long-time support for PA rival Hamas. Tehran reportedly upped financial support to the Gaza-based terror group after signing of a nuclear deal with Western powers last July.

The declarations by the Palestinian ambassador are among the latest by Arab states expressing support for Saudi Arabia in the regional tensions that broke out following the kingdom’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr on January 7.

Iran, a shiite-majority state, has been outspoken regarding the execution, which it sees as part of a series of Saudi attempts to silence internal opposition that diverges from Riyadh’s conservative Sunni doctrines.

This execution “merely shows the extent of irresponsibility and impudence,” Hossein Jaber Ansari, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, told the official IRNA news agency. “The Saudi government will pay a high price for following these policies.”

Hours after the announcement of the execution, angry crowds in Tehran stormed the Saudi embassy, hurling firebombs and setting the building alight. Similar events took place at the Saudi consulate in the Eastern Iranian city of Mashhad.

Smoke rises as Iranian protesters upset over the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, Sunday, January 3, 2016. (Mohammadreza Nadimi/ISNA via AP)
Smoke rises as Iranian protesters upset over the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, Sunday, January 3, 2016. (Mohammadreza Nadimi/ISNA via AP)

The attacks were widely condemned in the Arab world, which is Sunni by a broad margin, with many states coming out publicly in support of Riyadh against long-time rival Iran.

Bahrain, Sudan, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians have openly declared their support for Saudi Arabia, while Qatar and Kuwait have gone a step further and recalled their ambassadors from Tehran.

Iraq, which like Iran has a Shiite majority, has offered to act as a mediator between the two sides, but after Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari referred to the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr as a “crime,” such a role is unlikely to be accepted by the Saudis.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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