The Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers on Sunday tried to distance themselves from a protest staged by a pro-Iranian militant group that harshly attacked Saudi Arabia over its role in Yemen’s civil war.
During Saturday’s demonstration by Islamic Jihad, dozens of protesters chanted “Death to the House of Saud” and waved posters of the leader of Yemen’s Houthi militia.
Although Hamas did not participate in the protest, it tightly controls Gaza and authorizes all public gatherings. The protest threatened to embarrass Hamas, which already is largely isolated in the Arab world, and draw attention to its own ties to Iran.
On Sunday, Hamas tried to contain the damage. “The shouts against Arab and Gulf states from our Palestinian arena don’t represent our position and policy,” it said.
Yemen’s conflict began in 2014, when the Iranian-backed Houthis took the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen, forcing the government to flee to the south, then to exile in Saudi Arabia.
A Saudi-led coalition, backed at the time by the U.S., entered the war months later to try restoring the government to power. The fighting has killed tens of thousands of people and caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, pushing the country to the brink of famine. Most of the Arab world has sided with Saudi Arabia and largely sees Iran as an enemy.
Hamas has long tried to play both sides of the divide, accepting millions of dollars from Iran while also seeking broad Arab support for its armed struggle against Israel.
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This has grown increasingly difficult as Gulf countries have established ties with Israel in recent years. Mixed messages from Hamas have also complicated the task. Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official, said Saturday he supports Houthi drone attacks against the United Arab Emirates.
The hashtag, “#Palestinians Support the Houthis,” was trending on social media on Sunday and Dubai’s deputy police chief, Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, announced that Zahar was now on the UAE’s most wanted list.
The Saudi-led coalition drastically escalated airstrikes on Yemen’s rebel-held provinces over the past week in response to a drone attack claimed by the Houthis that targeted an oil facility and major airport in the UAE, killing three people and wounding six.
The Emirati government has vowed to respond to the attacks, saying the strike “will not go unpunished.”