Senior Hamas delegation seen in Saudi Arabia ahead of expected rapprochement talks

Leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal shown visiting Mecca wearing traditional pilgrimage garb

Hamas leaders including Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal are seen making a pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on April 18, 2023. (Screencapture/Twitter: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Hamas leaders including Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal are seen making a pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on April 18, 2023. (Screencapture/Twitter: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A senior delegation representing the Palestinian terror group Hamas has been filmed in Saudi Arabia, seemingly confirming reports that the officials were in the kingdom on a mission aimed at repairing ties with Riyadh.

Video posted to social media showed Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal wearing white terrycloth garments symbolic of the Muslim Hajj pilgrimage as they circled Islam’s holiest site in Mecca. The Muslim world is currently marking the final week of the Ramadan holy month.

Earlier, the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency Wafa cited the Al-Quds daily as saying the Hamas group was in Saudi Arabia, coinciding with a visit to the country by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

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

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

For many years, Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Hamas has been cold and tense, and the kingdom even arrested many people with ties to the jihadist group, which rules the Gaza Strip and openly seeks Israel’s destruction.

But following its landmark rapprochement with Iran last month, Riyadh appeared set to host a high-level delegation that will try to mend Hamas’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has been frosty since 2007, when the terror group overthrew the Palestinian Authority and took over Gaza in a bloody coup. Saudi leaders had blamed Hamas for the failure of attempts at reconciliation with 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.

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.

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.

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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