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Tuesday, November 9, 1999 Published at 23:23 GMT

World: Middle East

Jordan arrests Hamas leader

Officials Abu Marzuk (left) and Khalid Mishal were previously arrested

By Barbara Plett in Amman

Police in Jordan have arrested another leading activist of the militant Palestinian organisation, Hamas.

Izzat al-Rushuq has been on the run since the authorities shut the group's Amman office and detained its top leaders several months ago.

Hamas says this latest development has escalated the crisis and threatened efforts to negotiate a political solution.

End of Jordan's tolerance

The clampdown marks the end of Jordan's tolerance for the group, which is violently opposed to the peace process and responsible for killing Israelis in suicide bombs.

Mr al-Rushuq, who was arrested on Monday night while visiting the house of a local journalist, has been charged with membership in an illegal organisation and unlawful possession of firearms.

He was one of five Hamas leaders who were wanted by the authorities. Two are with him jail, one has been deported to Syria and the fourth is still at large.

Renounce links

Hamas said the latest arrest was a setback to the on-going search for a political solution.

Reports say the government is asking the Hamas leaders to either leave the country or renounce official links to the movement.

So far, the group has rejected these demands. And local newspapers say if both sides refuse to budge, the case will soon go before the courts.

Brotherhood divided

The clampdown on Hamas was the first domestic test for Jordan's new King Abdullah, whom observers wanted to send a clear message of support for Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, ahead of crucial peace talks with Israel.

Abdullah has taken a different approach than his father, the late King Hussein, who tolerated Hamas, apparently to maintain good relations with the local Islamist movement which has historic ties to the group.

But Jordan's Muslim brotherhood no longer speaks with one voice on this issue, it is split between moderates willing to cooperate with the establishment and radicals who sympathise with Hamas - a division which no doubt makes King Abdullah's task easier.

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