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Arrests Prove Jordan’s Hamas Policy

September 24, 1999

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ Two years ago, Jordan’s late King Hussein almost severed ties with Israel after its bungled attempt on the life of Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal. This week, Hussein’s heir detained Mashaal and a Hamas spokesman for alleged membership in an outlawed organization _ a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

The move may look like more fuzzy Middle East politics or give the impression that King Abdullah II opposes the Muslim radicals of Hamas, which is condemned by both Israel and the United States as a terrorist organization.

But the reality is far more complex.

While Jordan wants to avoid the impression that it is encroaching on the rights of the Palestinians as they negotiate with Israel on a final peace accord, Abdullah has compelling reasons to restrain Hamas.

The group advocates the annihilation of Israel, with whom Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994. A relaxed attitude toward Hamas would also anger the United States, which has been forthcoming in its political and financial support to Jordan.

Mashaal himself said the Jordanian crackdown was ``a political issue caused by pressures from the United States, the Zionist entity and the Palestinian Authority on Jordan to muzzle Hamas.″

But Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Majali has said that the arrests were a ``sovereign decision taken by the Jordanian government.″

Jordan has previously tolerated the group because Hamas has many sympathizers among Jordan’s predominantly Palestinian population, which was displaced in two wars with Israel in the last five decades.

Observers argue that the Hamas leaders have become an embarrassment to the government through their vociferous threats to torpedo the Middle East peace process, of which Jordan is a fervent supporter.

``The Hamas leaders here were asked to keep quiet, but they haven’t, and thus violated the norms of hospitality,″ said Parliament member Osama Malkawi.

Hamas’ tenuous security in Jordan was shaken Aug. 30 when police shut down the group’s offices, arrested 15 followers and issued arrest warrants for Mashaal, party spokesman Ibrahim Ghosheh and three other group leaders _ Moussa Abu Marzuk, Mohammed Nazzal and Izzat Rushoq.

Mashaal, Ghosheh and Abu Marzuk were detained as they arrived in Jordan from a trip to Iran on Wednesday. Mashaal and Ghosheh, both Jordanian citizens, are in police custody and have pleaded innocent to charges of affiliating with a banned group.

Abu Marzuk, who has a Yemeni passport, was expelled from the country. Nazzal and Rushoq remain at large and are believed to be hiding somewhere in Jordan.

Prime Minister Abdur-Ra’uf S. Rawabdeh dropped a bombshell in Parliament last week when he told lawmakers in a closed-door session that Hamas had been compiling security information on Jordan, storing caches of arms and explosives in warehouses across the kingdom and providing military training to its followers here.

Hamas had also collected well over $70 million in the last five years for the radical Palestinian group, which has claimed scores of deadly attacks on Israel, Rawabdeh added in the remarks that were published in all Jordanian newspapers.

Israel had made similar allegations in the last few years, but they fell on deaf ears under the leadership of the late Hussein, who had accommodated homegrown Muslim fundamentalists to prevent them from spawning a revolt in Jordan like those in other Arab nations.

In May 1997, Hussein offered shelter to Abu Marzuk when the United States sought to deport him to Israel, where he faced trial for alleged involvement in 10 fatal attacks against Israelis. Israel later dropped its extradition request and Abu Marzuk went to Jordan.

Four months later, Hussein threatened to sever ties with Israel when two of its secret service agents attempted to kill Mashaal on an Amman street. The king had President Clinton intercede with the Israeli government to provide an antidote that saved Mashaal’s life from the toxin that was injected into his ear.

Hussein also engineered the freeing of Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin from an Israeli jail in a swap for the captured assailants.

Now that the tide has turned against Hamas, Mashaal sent an emotional message to Abdullah, broadcast by an Arab satellite station this week.

``What has happened?″ Mashaal asked. ``Hamas has not changed, but unfortunately, your position toward it has changed and we hope that you will set things straight.″

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Jamal Halaby, the AP’s correspondent in Amman, is a specialist in Middle East politics.

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