Hamas Chief Meets Party Leaders in Morocco Visit

RABAT (Reuters) —
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. (Reuters/Mohammed Salem)

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh will meet Morocco’s main opposition party on Thursday as part of a visit to build support for the Palestinian cause despite the country’s recent diplomatic accord with Israel.

Haniyeh arrived in Morocco on Wednesday and met the Islamist PJD, the biggest party in the governing coalition, and will hold talks with several other main parties during his four-day visit.

On Thursday he is meeting PAM and Istiqlal, two of the main opposition parties, with other party meetings scheduled before he leaves on Sunday.

The trip comes after King Mohammed VI in December agreed to improve Moroccan relations with Israel as part of a deal with the United States that also included American recognition of Rabat’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.

In Morocco, the visit is seen as a way to balance ties with Israel and the Palestinians, and to demonstrate that despite its more friendly relations with Israel, Rabat still supports Palestinian independence hopes.

On Tuesday, King Mohammed congratulated new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on forming a government. The King, who holds ultimate power in Morocco, backs a two-state solution.

With parliamentary elections looming in September, Moroccan political parties are also seeking to show support for Palestinian rights after protests last month against the warmer ties with Israel.

After Hamas sharply criticized Morocco for the deal with the U.S. and Israel, Haniyeh’s visit underscores an effort to lobby for wider support following last month’s Gaza conflict.

Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Dine El Otmani gave a reception for Haniyeh on Wednesday in his capacity as PJD leader that featured Palestinian flags and music.

Otmani said King Mohammed had promised that Moroccan efforts to entrench sovereignty over Western Sahara would not be “at the expense of the Palestinian people.”

Gaining international recognition for its sovereignty over Western Sahara, where the Algeria-backed Polisario Front movement has been seeking independence for decades, is Morocco’s overriding foreign policy goal.

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