Jordan said Wednesday it would welcome a visit by the leaders of the militant Palestinian Hamas group, a departure from Amman's position that it would not deal with the exiled chiefs. "We welcome the visit of a delegation of our brothers the leaders of Hamas in their capacity as leaders of a Palestinian faction which we respect and value," Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit told a parliamentary session. Al-Bakhit's remarks show a change in the firm position that the government would not deal with the Hamas leaders who live outside the Palestinian territories because of what they refer to as "standing legal obstacles." Hamas, which does not recognize Israel, won a landslide victory in Palestinian legislative elections last month. Political leader Khaled Mashaal and other officials from the movement are conducting a regional and international tour to rally support before forming the new Palestinian government. The group has many sympathizers among Jordan's predominantly Palestinian population. But in 1999, Jordan, which had previously tolerated Hamas, said the group was engaged in illegal activities and exiled four of its leaders - all Jordanian citizens - to Qatar, closed Hamas offices and barred Hamas activities in the kingdom. At the time, the goverment claimed that Hamas activists "collaborated on Jordanian soil with foreign sides that do not like Jordan or its well-being," an apparent reference to other Palestinian dissident groups that were critical of Jordan's moderate policy toward Arab-Israeli peace. The exiled leaders were Mashaal, party spokesman Ibrahim Ghosheh and political bureau members Izzat Rushoq and Sami Khater. The four, along with 20 subordinates, were arrested in a government crackdown that began in late August 1999. The subordinates were later freed and allowed to remain in Jordan. Ghosheh was later allowed to return to Jordan provided that he renounced his adherence to Hamas and stopped all political activities related to Hamas as a banned faction. Jordan signed a peace deal with Israel in 1994.