Saudi Arabia frees senior Hamas official

GAZA, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Saudi authorities released a senior official of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas after over three years in detention, an official of the Islamist faction said.

Ezzat El-Reshiq, a member of the Hamas political bureau, said in a statement the official, Mohammad Al-Khodary, 83, whom Saudi authorities detained in 2019 along with dozens of others, was on board a plane heading to Jordan.

"I spoke to him and he is in good spirit. He hopes and he prays that the rest of his detained brothers be freed," said Reshiq.

There was no immediate reply from Saudi officials on a Reuters request for comment.

Hamas was formed in the 1980s as an offshoot of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood but has more recently stressed its basis as a Palestinian liberation movement, in part to defuse Egyptian enmity and draw support from wealthy Arab states.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have cracked down against the Brotherhood, which they view as a threat to their systems of rule.

The detentions and some trials before Saudi courts of Khodary, Hamas's former envoy to the Kingdom, and others, on ground of their support for Hamas, caused further tensions in relations between the two sides. Reshiq hoped Khodary's release could lead to some improvement.

"We highly appreciate the decision by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia...We pray that the step is an introduction to opening a new chapter and seeing the release of the remaining prisoners," Reshiq added.

Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi Editing by Peter Graff

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