Manama keynote

Bahraini crown prince calls on Hamas to release Israeli hostages

At an elite security forum in Manama, Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa was the only Middle Eastern leader to condemn the Oct. 7 Hamas attack

MAZEN MAHDI/AFP via Getty Images

Bahraini Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa (R) visits the track during the first practice session ahead of the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in the city of Sakhir on March 18, 2022.

Speaking at a prestigious security forum alongside senior Arab officials, Bahrain’s crown prince on Friday was the only Arab leader present to unequivocally condemn Hamas and call for the release of Israeli hostages.

“I condemn Hamas unequivocally,” Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa said on Friday in a keynote opening address at the 19th annual Manama Dialogue. “The attacks on Oct. 7 were barbaric, were — how can I put it — they were horrific. They used … They were indiscriminate. They killed women, children, elderly, did not matter.” 

The crown prince’s comments stood in contrast to speeches from senior leaders from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Arab League. His comments came two weeks after Bahrain, which first normalized ties with Israel in 2020, suspended its economic ties with Israel and recalled its ambassador, citing Bahrain’s “historic position in support of the Palestinian cause.” 

This year’s gathering, which wrapped up on Sunday, reflected the dramatic regional changes that have unfolded since Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel and Israel’s military response in Gaza. The elite confab, which last year hosted Israel’s national security advisor, this year did not include any Israeli speakers or guests, and most of the Arab leaders who spoke at the conference strongly attacked Israel for its war against Hamas in Gaza.

“It seems it’s okay now to grab hostages, and take them away and speak about it as if it’s an act of war. That is something that we condemn,” said Prince Salman, who called for a “hostage trade,” whereby Hamas would release the women and children held hostage in Gaza and Israel would release the Palestinian female and minor prisoners held in detention or in Israeli prisons, the latter mostly held for throwing rocks at Israeli military forces or Israeli civilians, others for more serious offenses. 

“From this stage, I call on Hamas to release the hostages, the women and children who they hold hostage, in exchange — and I call on the Israelis to release the women and children they hold in exchange, so that we can get some sense and a few days or weeks or months or maybe years of peace and calm,” said Prince Salman.

Now is “time for straight talking,” Prince Salman said, noting that other Arab leaders had not yet called for Hamas to release hostages. (Speaking on Saturday, Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Elkhereiji called for a hostage release without naming Hamas.)

He laid out a series of “red lines” that Bahrain believes must be adhered to. “There must be no terrorism directed from Gaza against the Israeli public,” Prince Salman said. “There must be no forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza, now or ever. There must be no reoccupation. There must be no reduction in Gaza’s territory.”

Like the other Arab leaders at the Manama Dialogue, Prince Salman also criticized Israel’s response in the weeks after Oct. 7. 

“I unequivocally condemn the air campaign that resulted in the death of over 11,000 people in Gaza, 4,700 of which are children. Now, both of these actions have led to the death of innocents,” he said. 

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