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Hamas leader ready to visit Jordan over tensions

Written by: Staff
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GAZA, May 13 (Reuters) The foreign minister in the Hamas-led Palestinian government said he was willing to travel to Jordan to defuse a crisis sparked by the arrest of suspected Hamas activists accused of plotting attacks in the kingdom.

Jordan said on Wednesday it arrested 20 Hamas members in April who were part of a plot to stage attacks in the country.

Jordanian officials also said last month they had discovered a secret Hamas arms cache.

''We are ready to visit Jordan now to defuse this crisis and to put an end to its negative consequences on the two peoples,'' said Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar, who denied any involvement by Hamas.

''Our position remains unchanged: we have not been and we will never be a factor of tension or a security worry to any country especially Jordan,'' Zahar, who is also a senior leader of Hamas, told reporters in Gaza.

Jordanian officials were not immediately available for comment.

Hamas has many supporters in Palestinian camps in Jordan, which hosts the largest number of refugees outside the West Bank and Gaza.

Jordan cancelled a visit by Zahar last month after it said it had discovered an arms cache in the kingdom, which had been smuggled from Syria, where Hamas's exiled leadership is based.

On Thursday, two of the suspects arrested last month said on Jordanian television they were recruited by operatives from the Palestinian militant group's Damascus-based leadership.

There was no way to verify the authenticity of the confessions.

Independent lawyers and rights groups say many confessions by political detainees are extracted under duress.

Hamas took control of the Palestinian Authority in March after defeating President Mahmoud Abbas's long-dominant Fatah movement in parliamentary elections.

The group has repeatedly denied accusations its members are involved in arms smuggling to Jordan from Syria and refused to join a committee set up by Abbas to investigate the case with Jordanian officials.

Hamas has said material presented to the committee by Jordanian officials was ''a fabrication''.

REUTERS OM VC1830

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