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Jordan says smuggled Hamas arms came from Syria

Written by: Staff
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AMMAN, Apr 20 (Reuters) Prime Minister Marouf Bakheet told a meeting of parliamentarians that weapons seized from a secret Hamas arms cache in Jordan had been smuggled from Syria, deputies said today.

Bakheet gave no details to Islamist deputies when he met them late today on how the weapons, which authorities say were recently discovered, had reached Jordan from Syria, where the Palestinian militant group's exiled leadership is based.

Azzam Huneidi, the head of the 17-member Islamic Action Front bloc in the 110-seat assembly, said Bakheet declined to elaborate beyond saying the arms cache which contained rocket launchers and highly combustible explosives ''came from Syria''.

Yesterday Hamas denied the accusations, saying it has never targeted Jordan or any country other than Israel.

US ally Jordan has over the years accused Damascus-based radical Palestinian groups opposed to West Asian peacemaking of either plotting attacks inside the kingdom or trying to smuggle arms to launch attacks against Israel from its territory.

But a security official told Reuters that while they were concerned the smuggled weapons had come from Syria there was no proof that Damascus condoned such activities.

An alarming sign for Jordanian intelligence beyond the discovery of the arms cache was that several Hamas activists had been arrested while engaged in ''surveillance of vital installations,'' the security source said without elaborating.

That would be a ''declaration of war'' by Hamas and a major shift in strategy away from its traditional policy of restricting attacks on Palestinian territory, another security source said without elaborating.

ISLAMISTS SCEPTICAL Jordan's Islamist opposition and independent politicians are sceptical about Tuesday's announcement that Hamas, which formed the new Palestinian government last month after winning general elections in January, had sought to destabilise the kingdom.

They say it was a pretext to severe ties with Hamas, whose leaders have had a rocky relationship over the years with Amman, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and has strong security cooperation with its western neighbour.

Jordanian officials privately support US-led efforts to isolate the Hamas government diplomatically and financially unless it embraces West Asia peacemaking.

Hamas's politburo chief Khaled Meshaal, a Jordanian citizen, was expelled in 1999 along with other leaders after a crackdown on the group following accusations of illegal activities.

Bakheet also told deputies but without giving details that the smuggling and storing of arms was one of several attempts by Hamas to bring in weapons into the kingdom that had been foiled by Jordanian intelligence in the past.

The senior Jordanian official evaded questions by deputies on whether any activists had been detained. ''He only said the investigations were ongoing,'' Huneidi said.

The militant group has a large following in refugee camps across Jordan, a country which hosts the largest number of Palestinian refugees outside the West Bank and Gaza.

REUTERS SHB KP1833

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