Saudi Arabia has put dozens of Palestinian activists on trial, accusing them of supporting the Gaza-based rulers Hamas.
According to Arabic press reports, 68 Palestinian and Jordanian citizens faced the “special terrorism court” in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, beginning on Sunday.
Families of the accused said their relatives were being prosecuted without legal representation. The detainees were arrested by Saudi secret police in April of last year.
Among those arrested was Mohammed al-Khudari, 81, a long time Palestinian resident of Saudi Arabia and a retired physician suffering from colon cancer, according to his family who spoke by phone from Gaza.
Al-Khadari’s son, Hani – an IT professor at a Saudi university with no apparent political activities – was also detained.
Abdul Majed, Mohammed al-Khudari’s brother, told Al Jazeera both relatives were placed in solitary confinement for seven months. He said the next court date would be May 5.
“The arrests of these two Palestinian nationals is part of a wider crackdown by the Saudi Arabian authorities on Palestinians residing in Saudi Arabia with a perceived link to Hamas de facto authorities,” according to a statement by Amnesty International.
“Since February 2019, the Saudi authorities have detained approximately 60 Palestinians visiting or residing in Saudi Arabia, including students, academics, and businessmen.”
Hamas is generally viewed in the Arab world as a legitimate resistance movement against the Israeli occupation of Palestinians lands.
According to regional analysts, the Saudi shift towards Israel could be understood within the framework of the changing of the guard within the kingdom’s leadership.
The 84-year-old King Salman’s ascension to the throne in 2015 ushered in the rise of his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), 34, to power.
According to Professor Mahjoob Zweiri, MBS is eager to take control of the kingdom and is in dire need of foreign political support, particularly from the United States and Israel.
Zweiri, director of Gulf Studies Center at Qatar University, said he does not see any reason why Saudi Arabia would hold Palestinians for supporting Hamas.
Hamas issued a statement on Monday denouncing the arrests saying it was closely following the “false accusations” and the “unjust trial” of Palestinians in Saudi Arabia.
“The Palestinians arrested by the Saudi state security police have committed no crime other than having the honour of defending Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Mosque,” the statement said.
Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk told Al Jazeera in a previous interview his organisation had tried mediation efforts with the Saudi government for months in order to free the detainees, but to no avail.
Zweiri said MBS’s effort to secure the Saudi throne led him to back US President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan.
The plan supports the Israeli goals of annexing large sections of the occupied West Bank and legitimises its illegal Jewish settlements.
The Trump administration recognised occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s “capital” – an illegal move under international law and a violation of 1993 Palestinian-Israeli Oslo agreements.
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