hamas men masked 298.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Jordan announced Wednesday the arrest of more than 20 Hamas activists for allegedly smuggling weapons to attack targets in the kingdom and warned the Palestinian Hamas-led government of the consequences of any terrorist activity.
The detentions reflect a deepening isolation of Hamas - even by Arab countries - since forming a government in March.
The arrests are connected to the discovery on April 18 of a cache of weapons, including Iranian-made Katyusha rockets and LAW anti-tank missiles, that were allegedly smuggled in from Syria and stockpiled in Jordan, government spokesman Nasser Judeh said.
Since the discovery, 20 Hamas activists have been detained, and investigations could reveal more people involved in a plot "targeting locations and military and civilian officials," Judeh said.
The government suspects there are more hidden weapons, constituting a "great danger to Jordan's national security," he said.
In an implicit reference to the Hamas-led government, Judeh warned that Jordan will "hold whoever responsible for - God forbid - any action or incident" in the kingdom.
Hamas officials, along with the Syrian government - which hosts Hamas' exiled leadership - have denied the accusations.
But the alleged plot has further hurt already long-strained ties between Jordan and the radical Palestinian movement. A day after the cache's discovery, Jordan cancelled a planned visit to Amman by Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas leader.
The flap adds to the troubles of the Hamas government. Its power struggle with the Fatah movement that it replaced turned violent this week with clashes in Gaza, and a halt in international aid to the Palestinian Authority has deepened the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories.
Hamas had hoped for aid from Arab and Islamic nations to fill the gap, but Arab governments have largely failed to fulfill promises of financial support. The aid that has come - most of it from Iran and the Gulf state of Qatar - is stuck in an account in Egypt because banks refuse to transfer it, fearing retaliation from the United States.
Amman's relations with Hamas have been strained for years. Jordan, a longtime US ally and a peace partner with Israel, once expelled the current Hamas boss, Khaled Mashaal, for his activities.
Jordan has called on Hamas to accept an Arab peace plan, which entails full recognition of Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars.
The weapons plot has raised speculation by Hamas supporters here that Jordan was bowing to US pressure to further undermine Hamas. The Islamic Action Front, Jordan's largest opposition group and a known Hamas sympathizer, accused the government of exaggerating the arms discovery.
Judeh, the Jordanian government spokesman, said state television on Thursday would air confessions by the detained activists to address public suspicions about the accusations.
On Wednesday, Jordanian authorities briefed five top Palestinian security officials - led by Maj. Gen. Tareq Abu Rajab, chief of Palestinian General Intelligence - of the evidence against the Hamas militants. The team was sent by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, not the Hamas government.
Judeh said the Palestinian team was being shown "secret documents, information and evidence which implicates [Hamas] beyond doubt." He said Hamas had been seeking to "recruit elements to operate" in the kingdom as well as bring in activists from the Palestinian territories "to send them to Syria and Iran for training in intelligence, security and military activities."