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'Hamas leaders in Syria ordered attacks'

Written by: Staff

AMMAN, Apr 26: Jordan today said a group of Hamas militants arrested last week were close to staging attacks inside the kingdom on orders from the Palestinian group's Syrian-based leadership.

Security sources said Jordan's intelligence community is checking whether the Hamas plot represented a shift in strategy away from the militant group's traditional policy of restricting attacks to Palestinian territory and Israel.

''Security interrogations with the detained suspects had proven they received instructions to execute operations from leaders of Hamas and specifically one of the military officials of Hamas currently based in Syria,'' said government spokesman Nasser Joudeh.

''They (the attacks) had reached a stage of implementation targeting installations and officials in Jordan,'' he added.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denied the charges, saying the group did not have any armed group ''either in Jordan or in any other country''.

Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, has no track record of attacks outside the West Bank Gaza Strip and Israel.

A Syrian Foreign Ministry official denied the Jordanian allegations and said Damascus was ''unaware of any Hamas military leadership within its borders'' and that the militant group's presence in Syria was solely political.

A Hamas government, which took power in the Palestinian territories last month after winning January elections, has been under pressure to recognise Israel and embrace Middle East peace efforts. Jordanian officials privately support US-led efforts to isolate it diplomatically and financially.

ROCKET LAUNCHERS AND EXPLOSIVES Joudeh did not say how many Hamas activists were being held, but said one of the detainees had led security officials to a location in northern Jordan near the Syrian border where large quantities of weapons had been found.

''The pursuit is still going on and investigations into this are being conducted,'' Joudeh added without elaborating.

TNT explosives, rocket launchers and detonators were found in the safe house used by the Hamas activists, Joudeh said.

Jordan said last week that rocket launchers and highly combustible explosives seized from a secret Hamas arms cache in the kingdom had been smuggled from Syria, where the Palestinian militant groups' exiled leadership is based.

A security official told Reuters last week that while Amman was concerned the activists and the weapons had come from Syria there was no proof that Damascus condoned such activities.

A Jordanian security official said Amman was very concerned about the Hamas plot.

''Setting up a secret infrastructure network to plan activities against Israel from Jordan is one matter but targeting Jordan's own internal stability is a very different ball game,'' another security source said.

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

Hamas 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.

Hamas's politburo chief Khaled Meshaal, a Jordanian citizen living in Syria, was expelled in 1999 along with other leaders after accusations of illegal activities.

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.


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