DUBAI (Reuters) - Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and other top officials from the Palestinian militant group met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and senior Saudi leaders on Friday, a Hamas source said, in the first meeting between the two sides for years.
The meeting brought together top members of Hamas political wing with the Saudi king, crown prince and defense minister in a possible rapprochement between the conservative United States-allied kingdom and the traditionally Iran-allied party.
“The delegation discussed Palestinian unity and the political situation in the region. This meeting will hopefully develop relations between Hamas and Saudi Arabia,” the source told Reuters.
Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007 after fighting a brief and bloody civil war with Palestinian rivals in Fatah and has fought three wars with Israel, which it has vowed to destroy.
The group was jolted by civil war and rivalries in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011 and relations with Iran soured over its refusal that year to back Tehran’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in his war against mainly Islamist rebels.
Much of Hamas’s senior leadership decamped to Qatar, but the tiny gas-rich state was under pressure from fellow Gulf Arab countries to reduce its support for Islamist groups.
Relations between Hamas and Saudi Arabia have improved since Salman assumed the Saudi throne in January and the kingdom has taken on a newly assertive posture in the region.
Saudi Arabia has led an Arab military intervention in Yemen and is fiercely opposed to what it views as Iranian encroachment in the Arab world, despite a deal agreed this week between Tehran and world powers over its disputed nuclear program.
Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by Tom Heneghan