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Already reeling from threats by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to disband their newly elected government, Hamas leaders received another blow on Tuesday as Jordan accused the Hamas members it arrested last week of plotting to attack public places and prominent figures in the Hashemite Kingdom.
With the Western World lined up against it, Abbas openly challenging its authority, and no money to pay its civil servants, the accusations from the Jordanians are but the latest crisis to hit the month-old Hamas government.
The Hamas cell members, originally arrested for arms smuggling, were in the final stage of planning their attack when they were caught, said Jordanian government spokesman Nasser Judeh on Tuesday.
"They received instructions from Hamas leaders, specifically an official from the military wing of the Hamas movement who is currently in Syria," he said. Judeh said one of the cell members led Jordanian security forces to a second weapons cache located in the northern part of the country, containing TNT and light anti-tank weapons.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the accusations "totally false and groundless" and said Jordan's efforts to foment anger toward Hamas would backfire.
"This will not isolate Hamas, but will contribute to isolating those involved in" pressuring the group, he said.
Jordan has a checkered history with Hamas. King Hussein saved Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal's life after a botched Mossad assassination attempt in Amman in 1997, while King Abdullah issued a warrant for his arrest following a souring of relations in 1999.
Whether or not the accusations leveled by Jordan prove to be true, analysts said it was clear from the timing - they came in the midst of a war of words between Abbas and Mashaal, who now lives in Damascus - that Jordan was joining the growing international movement against the terrorist organization.
"Most of the Arab regimes are following the American directions, they can't take any independent decisions," said Eyad Sarraj, a Gaza psychiatrist who was an adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team at the 2000 Camp David summit.
"Of course they have their own interests. An Islamist party that is powerful next door is not good for the Hashemite kingdom. So they are also part of the movement to bring down the government," Sarraj said.
Just a day earlier, comments attributed to Abbas calling Mashaal "a civil war monger" were published in the Middle East's two leading anti-Syrian newspapers, the Lebanese Al-Mustaqbal and the Jordanian Al-Ra'i. Al-Mustaqbal is owned by the family of the assassinated Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Abbas's attack followed comments from Mashaal on Friday in which the Hamas leader insinuated that the PA chairman was "a traitor" to the Palestinian people for working with Israel and the United States to bring down the Hamas-led PA. Hamas's Damascus branch repeated the charge Tuesday, releasing a statement that again accused Abbas of "serving the Zionist enemy."
But the Jordanian charges came on a day of rapprochement between the leadership inside the territories of the two main Palestinian factions.
On a visit to Turkey, Abbas told reporters that he would prevent a Palestinian civil war - a prospect that was raised as a genuine possibility for the first time in recent days.
"Some people may want Palestine to be destroyed, but they will not succeed," Abbas said. "We will not permit such destructive clashes. We have red lines and we will not let any civil war occur."
His comments were welcomed by PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who broke ranks with Mashaal in Damascus. "Thank God that we contained and stopped these incidents," he said before a cabinet meeting in Gaza. "My message to our people is that we should maintain and protect the national unity."
According to Sarraj, though, such unity will be fleeting and the conflict that has been brewing between Fatah and Hamas since the January elections will likely intensify in the coming days.
"Both camps don't want to give into the reality," said Sarraj. "Hamas is so obsessed with power now and Fatah cannot deal with the defeat of election day. It's going to escalate and lead to chaos and anarchy and confrontation between the two sides."
Meanwhile PA Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that financial institutions worldwide were heeding the US directive not to transfer money to the PA.
"We hope to find a solution in the near future," he said, adding that Hamas would soon open discussions on the matter with Arab banks.
As a result of the cut-offs in foreign aid and tax transfers from Israel, and its own mismanagement, the PA is bankrupt and cannot pay the salaries of its 152,000 employees or fund any normal government functions.
Arab states such as Iran and Qatar have donated money to the PA, but because of the banks' refusal to violate American wishes, the funds have not reached their destination.
AP contributed to this report.
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