Jordan, Hamas` love-hate affair

Jordan`s relationship with Palestinian militant group Hamas has gone through many ups and downs over the past two decades. But the most serious challenge to the relationship since 1999, when Amman closed Hamas` offices and evicted four of its leaders, occurred Tuesday following accusations that the group was smuggling arms to Jordan as a prelude to attacking vital targets.

Only hours before the minister of foreign affairs in the Hamas government, Mahmoud Zahhar, was scheduled to visit Amman, the government disclosed information that Hamas planed to target Jordan and had built up a stockpile of arms on Jordanian territory.

The development, denied by Hamas and Jordan`s outlawed but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood Organization, resulted in the cancellation of Zahhar`s visit, which was part of a Middle East tour aimed at garnering political and financial support for the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas` presence in Jordan dates back to the early 1990s, and its pioneer members were Jordanians of Palestinian origin affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Jordanian branch of the Brotherhood was the main sponsor for Hamas when it began to expand outside the Palestinian territories, notably Gaza, where it was founded in the mid-1980s by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

\’Hamas` representatives in Amman were using the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood to follow up the group`s affairs in Jordan, and were operating with the support of late King Hussein,\’ Mohammed Abu Rumman, a specialist on Islamic movements, told United Press International.

In 1991, Hamas opened a representative office in Jordan directed by Mohammed Nazzal, the group`s official delegate in Amman. It also appointed Ibrahim Ghosheh, a former member of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, as its official spokesman in Jordan.

When Khaled Meshaal became Hamas` Politburo chief in 1996, he was still an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.

At the time, the Jordanian government treated the Hamas representatives like diplomats, inviting them to official functions and exchanging official correspondence.

The special relationship that existed between Hamas and Jordan was most obvious in 1997, when Israel tried to assassinate Meshaal on an Amman street, using two Mossad agents who sprayed him with poison.

The attempt outraged King Hussein, who refused to return the Mossad officers to Israel unless Jordan was given the antidote. The Jordanian monarch also asked Israel to release wheelchair-bound Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin, who was imprisoned in an Israeli jail, in exchange for the Mossad agents.

Shortly after the unsuccessful assassination attempt on Meshaal, King Hussein received Yassin at Amman airport and dispatched his personal helicopter to transport him to the biggest Jordanian hospital for free medical treatment.

The honeymoon between Hamas and Jordan ended in 1999, with the beginning of King Abdullah`s reign, when the Jordanian government accused the militant group of interfering in its domestic affairs.

Jordanian authorities closed Hamas offices in Amman and expelled four of its top officials to Qatar, including Meshaal, Ghosheh and Politburo members Sami Khater and Ezzat Rashak, while Mohammed Nazzal was placed under house arrest.

Mediation efforts by the Muslim Brotherhood to secure their return failed, although they held Jordanian citizenship. Jordan then said it would allow them to return on the condition they ceased any interaction with Hamas, on the grounds that Jordanian law bars nationals from belonging to non-Jordanian organizations.

In January, Jordan cautiously welcomed Hamas` landslide victory in general elections in the Palestinian territories and announced that it would deal with Hamas on an equal footing, as with any Palestinian group.

Jordan, which supports the Middle East peace process on the basis of the Quartet`s road map, refused to receive a Hamas delegation led by Meshaal that toured Arab and Islamic countries following the elections.

Before the formation of the Palestinian government in February, two Hamas members attended the Conference of Arab parliamentarians at Jordan`s Dead Sea Resort, but the Jordanian government denied they had held any meetings with the Palestinian delegates.

In March, Jordan welcomed the formation of the Hamas-led government and Prime Minister Maaruf Bakheet sent a message of congratulations to his Palestinian counterpart Ismail Haniyeh.

Jordan also called on the international community to keep up financial assistance to the Palestinian government, after the United States and the European Union announced the suspension of aid.

Amman and Cairo initially urged Hamas to recognize Israel, abandon violence and acknowledge past agreements signed between the PA and Israel, conditions made by the West for the continuation of financial support to the Palestinians.