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Saudi downplays Hamas pilgrimage visit

AFP , Thursday 23 Jul 2015
Al-Jubeir
File Photo: Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir during a press conference in Amman, Thursday, July 9, 2015 (Photo: AP)
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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.

"A group from Hamas, including (politburo chief) Khaled Meshaal... visited Mecca for umra(the lesser pilgrimage). They performed the Eid (holiday) 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.

Hamas said in a statement last weekend that the delegation, including Meshaal's deputy Moussa Abu Marzouk, 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 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in Egypt.

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.

On the July 14 accord struck in Vienna by Tehran and world powers on Iran's nuclear programme, the Saudi minister said Riyadh had received US "assurances" on strict implementation of the deal to ensure its rival does not become a nuclear-armed power.

Iranian "interference" in the affairs of its Arab neighbours remains "a source of concern for states of the region, something which has to be faced with firmness", said Jubeir.

He urged Tehran to use the sanctions relief from the accord "to reconstruct its country and improve the living standards of its people, not for more acts of sabotage in the region".

*This story was edited by Ahram Online. 

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