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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hamas Weapons Cache Came from Syria

As many of you know already, a Hamas weapons cache was discovered in Jordan over the holiday. Today, Hamas is denying the weapons cache's existence, despite pictures having appeared on the front pages of Jordanian newspapers (shades of the Karine A). Discovery of the cache caused Jordan to postpone a visit by the Palestinian foreign minister, Mahmoud Zahar, who is also a senior Hamas leader. Hamas, which now controls the Palestinian government, said it regretted the decision to delay talks.

A Jordanian government spokesman, Nasser Joudeh, told the Petra news agency on Tuesday that the Hamas weapons cache, found at an undisclosed site in Jordan, included rocket launchers, explosives and automatic weapons. Jordanian newspapers ran front-page photos of the arms on Wednesday.

"These activities contradict the positive commitment by the new Palestinian government not to use the Jordanian arena for any purposes that harm Jordan's security or for meddling in its internal affairs," Mr. Joudeh said Tuesday.

Zahar planned to visit Jordan this week as part of his tour of Arab states to raise money for Hamas.

Zahar's visit would have been the most prominent one by a Hamas official since Jordan expelled several Hamas leaders in 1999. At the time, Jordan accused Hamas of secretly engaging in military training there and of working with Islamic opposition groups in Jordan.

Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel and close relations with the United States, strongly backs the Palestinians as well. About 70% of Jordan's population is of 'Palestinian' origin. The royal family in Jordan are the descendants of the losers of a power struggle with the Saudi royal family in the 1920's.

However, Jordan has sought to prevent the turmoil of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from spilling into its territory and has had friction with Hamas in the past.

In the 1999 expulsion, Jordan tossed out several top Hamas leaders, including Khaled Mashal, who is now the overall leader of the group. Mr. Mashal has been based in Syria since he was forced to leave Jordan.

Today, Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf Bakheet told a meeting of parliamentarians that weapons seized from a secret Hamas arms cache in Jordan had been smuggled from Syria.

Bakheet gave no details to Islamist deputies when he met them late Wednesday on how the weapons, which authorities say were recently discovered, had reached Jordan from Syria, where Hamas' exiled leadership is based.

Bakheet also told deputies but without giving details that the smuggling and storing of weapons by Hamas was one of several attempts that had been foiled by Jordanian intelligence in the past.


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