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Wednesday, September 22, 1999 Published at 21:43 GMT 22:43 UK

World: Middle East

Jordan defends Hamas detentions

Abu Marzuk (left) and Khalid Mishal: Arrested as they stepped off the plane

Jordan has defended the arrests on Wednesday of three senior Hamas officials who had been out of the country since a government crackdown on the movement last month.

The BBC's Barbara Plett: "Arrested as soon as they stepped off the plane"
The trio - politbureau chief Khalid Mishal, official spokesman Ibrahim Ghosheh and politbureau member Musa Abu Marzuq - were detained at Amman airport after their plane from Iran landed on Wednesday.

Jordan's Deputy Prime Minister, Ayman al-Majali, said the government had ealier warned the Hamas leaders that they "overstepped their political and media role", and had become a threat to the security and the stability of Jordan.

He said Mr Abu Marzouq would be expelled from Jordan because he had a foreign passport. The other two men are to be charged with illegal activities.

[ image: Abdullah and Arafat discuss Hamas activity last week]
Abdullah and Arafat discuss Hamas activity last week
A Hamas statement condemned the arrests as unjustified and called for a solution to the crisis "through dialogue and understanding".

"We hope the Jordanian government will stop these measures and respond to Jordanian public opinion, which affirmed its support and backing for Hamas," the statement said.

Meanwhile, Hamas officials from the Palestinian territories have appealed to the Palestinian Authority to allow a Hamas delegation to go to Jordan to lobby for the release of the detainees in Jordan.

But Mr Majali ruled out any negotiation, saying the detentions were in accordance with a sovereign order and would not be reversed.

Israel happy

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak took the opportunity to praise Jordan's King Abdullah as "an example of security awareness".

[ image: Mossad, Mishal, and King Hussein, enabled  Shaikh Yassin's release in 1997]
Mossad, Mishal, and King Hussein, enabled Shaikh Yassin's release in 1997
Israel, the United States and the Palestinian National Authority have repeatedly asked Jordan to close down the Hamas offices.

Hamas has killed scores of Israelis as part of its opposition to the Israeli-Arab peace process.

But the Amman office always insisted it had nothing to do with military operations, sticking instead to information activity.

Mossad target

Two years ago, one of the detainees, Khalid Mishal, was subject to a botched assassination attempt by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

King Abdullah's father, the late King Hussein, ordered the Israelis to hand over an antidote to the poison the Mossad men, posing as Canadian tourists, had tried to spray in Mr Mishal's ear in broad daylight outside his house in Amman.

The incident caused a breakdown of relations between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the king.

Israel was forced by Jordan to release the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, to atone for the assassination attempt.

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