Jordan rebuffs Hamas bid to revive ties

Amman is also said to have told Cairo it is 'making a mistake' in not tackling Hamas more firmly.

Mashaal 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Mashaal 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Jordan has twice in recent months rejected requests from the Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to reestablish formal Jordan-Hamas relations and open Hamas offices in its territory, and has been telling Egypt that it is making a mistake in not cracking down harder on Hamas's arms smuggling activities at the Gaza border, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Jordan cut off all ties with Hamas after seizing weaponry intended for it last year, and regards it as a threat to its national security. Mashaal was based in Jordan in 1997 when Israel, citing his terrorist activities, mounted a botched attempt to poison him. With Jordan threatening to sever ties, Israel both provided the antidote to save Mashaal's life and freed Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin in return for Jordan's release of two Mossad agents captured in the assassination bid. Firmly rebuffing his recent calls to reestablish a Hamas presence in the kingdom, Jordan has accused Mashaal of having betrayed its trust in the past by attempting to use a presence there to smuggle weaponry into the West Bank as a launching point for terrorist attacks. Jordan, in marked contrast to Egypt, is maintaining a firm and thorough effort to prevent Hamas activities in its territory, the Post has been told, and to thwart any replication of the kind of arms smuggling at the Gaza border that is causing such concern in Israel and raising tensions in the Israeli-Egyptian relationship. Jordan is responsible for a border of some 360 km. facing Israel and the West Bank, and maintains an extremely serious military presence along that route, in cooperation with Israel, and at other sensitive places in its territory, including the main airport, the Post has been told. Egypt's Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman told the Post in Sharm e-Sheikh on Wednesday that Egypt was now working to end the smuggling of arms in Gaza. Visiting Defense Minister Ehud Barak was assured that Egypt would begin using costly tunnel-detection systems in the next few months. But Jordan is understood to be skeptical as to whether Egypt seriously intends to dramatically change its behavior. Jordanian officials have told their Egyptian counterparts that they are making a mistake in tolerating Hamas activity, and that as a consequence, Hamas is gaining strength and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is weakening, the Post has learned. But Egypt, grappling with its own domestic Islamist threat, has retorted that Hamas should not be ignored and that it does not want to sever all contacts with the organization. Jordan's concern is over the widening presence and emboldenment in the region of extremist groups, such as Hamas, loyal to Iran and sharing the Iranian regime's ambitions. In that light, Jordan has also been telling Israel to do its utmost to bolster Abbas and Fatah in the West Bank against Hamas, while also insisting on a thorough reform of Fatah and the establishment of institutions of competent governance in the West Bank. Israel had better strengthen Abbas "before it's too late," runs the message. Jordanian officials have noted that Iran "is not 3,000 km. away," but rather "here already - in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon. And soon it might be in the West Bank."