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Jordan says Hamas must reveal hidden arms caches

Written by: Staff

AMMAN, May 14 : Jordan told Hamas today to send a team to find weapons it accuses the militant Palestinian group of hiding on its soil as a first step to ending a crisis sparked by accusations of a bombing plot.

Jordan rejected an offer by Mahmoud al-Zahar, foreign minister in the Hamas-led Palestinian government, to travel to Amman for talks aimed at mending strained relations.

The Jordanians arrested 20 Hamas members in April who it said were part of a plot to stage attacks in the kingdom. It cancelled a visit by Zahar last month after the discovery of an arms cache which it said had been smuggled from Syria, where Hamas's exiled leadership is based.

Government spokesperson Nasser Joudeh said a visit by the foreign minister was inappropriate until Hamas came clean over additional arms caches the authorities believe are hidden.

''The government wants the Palestinian government to send a security team that is in position to reveal more information (about the plot) and the location of the other arms caches that the security forces say still exists in Jordan,'' Joudeh said.

''All this must happen before embarking in any political contacts with the Palestinian government in this phase.'' Hamas leaders have had a rocky relationship over the years with Jordan which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and has strong security cooperation with its western neighbour.

HANIYEH DISAPPOINTED Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh expressed surprise at the rejection of Zahar's offer to visit Amman and insisted settling the crisis could only come through political dialogue.

''We are fully convinced that any meeting should be political in order to treat, discuss and look into the future of the relationship and not on the basis of accusations,'' Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza.

The militant group which won elections in January and formed its first government in March has repeatedly denied accusations its members are involved in arms smuggling to Jordan from Syria.

''We do not interfere in the affairs of any Arab country, and we regard the security of these countries as if it were the security of Palestine,'' Haniyeh added.

The Hamas-led government refused to join a committee set up by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to investigate the case with Jordanian officials.

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


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