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Jordan says it finds large Hamas weapons cache

Written by: Staff
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AMMAN, Apr 19 (Reuters) Jordan accused Hamas of storing arms on its territory and cancelled a visit by the foreign minister of the new Palestinian government led by the Islamic militant group.

Government spokesman Nasser Joudeh told the state news agency Petra yesterday that ''rocket launchers, explosives and automatic weapons'' had been seized recently by Jordanian security forces from a Hamas arms cache they discovered on Jordanian soil.

Jordan said the discovery was a serious breach of pledges by the Hamas-led Palestinian government not to meddle in Jordan's internal affairs.

''These activities contradict the positive commitments by the new Palestinian government not to use the Jordanian arena for any purposes that harm Jordan's security or for meddling in its internal affairs,'' Joudeh was quoted as saying.

Joudeh said a planned visit by Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar was cancelled until ''further notice in light of the latest developments and the seizure of weapons''.

This was proof the Islamist Palestinian movement was using double language in its dealings with Jordan, Joudeh added.

Zahar's visit to the pro-American country was part of a Arab tour he is making to drum up funding and stymie Western efforts to isolate the financially stricken Palestinian government.

Officials told Reuters the Jordanian move was a snub to the Palestinian government, which faces challenges in finding fresh sources of aid following cuts from the West.

Jordanian officials privately support US-led efforts to isolate the Hamas government diplomatically and financially unless it embraces West Asia peacemaking, and the cancellation of the minister's visit appeared in line with those sympathies.

The visit would have been the first such trip by a senior member of the militant group's leadership, which took power last month after winning parliamentary elections in January, since Jordan expelled the Hamas leadership in 1999.

Hamas, which has a large following in Palestinian camps across Jordan, was also accused of using Jordan to engage in illegal anti-Israel activities.

Hamas offices were closed and Jordanian activists belonging to the group were warned to refrain from any activities in the kingdom.

In the most serious rupture of ties since the 1999 crackdown, the government spokesman also suggested that Hamas activists had planned sabotage on Jordanian soil, saying its members had been undertaking ''surveillance activities for several vital targets in Amman and other cities''.

Many officials in Jordan -- which faces domestic Islamist opposition closely linked to the Palestinian movement -- have privately voiced concern about what they see as the negative repercussions of a Hamas victory on West Asia peace making.

Much of Jordan's population is of Palestinian origin and the kingdom hosts the largest number of refugees outside the West Bank and Gaza.

REUTERS PG PM0532

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