Saudi downplays Hamas pilgrimage visit

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir says there was no (political) visit by Hamas to the kingdom


Afp July 23, 2015
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir. PHOTO: AFP

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia on Thursday played down the significance of a visit by Hamas leaders, saying it was only a religious pilgrimage and Riyadh's position on the Palestinian Islamist movement was unchanged.

"There was no (political) visit by Hamas to the kingdom," Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir said at a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry.

The official Saudi Press Agency reported last Saturday on the rare Hamas visit.

Read: Saudi outreach to Hamas part of wider effort against Iran

"A group from Hamas, including (politburo chief) Khaled Meshaal... visited Mecca for Umra. They offered the Eidul Fitr prayers there and offered Eid greetings to the king," Jubeir said.

"There were no meetings."

Saudi Arabia is a strong supporter of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, and of Egypt's government, both of which are at odds with the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip.

"The position of the kingdom towards Hamas has not changed, nor its positions concerning supporting the (Palestinian) Authority and Egypt's efforts to preserve stability and security," Jubeir said, referring to "some exaggeration" about the visit.

Read: Hamas chief and Saudi king hold rare meeting: Hamas source

Hamas said in a statement last weekend that the delegation, including Meshaal's deputy Mussa Abu Marzuk, also met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king's son and defence minister.

Ties between Hamas and Riyadh deteriorated after the kingdom supported the Egyptian army's 2013 ouster of president Mohamed Morsi and its crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood.

The exiled Meshaal has been based in Doha since he abandoned Damascus in 2012 after the group sided with Syrian rebels against Iranian-backed President Bashar al-Assad.

The Hamas visit triggered press criticism in Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional rival.

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