GAZA (Reuters) – Hamas on Wednesday denied accusations by Jordan that the Islamic militant group had stored weapons on its territory and said it regretted Amman’s cancellation of a visit by the Palestinian foreign minister.
“Hamas rejects and condemns the provocative accusations by the Jordanian authorities,” the group said in a statement.
“Hamas has never targeted Jordan, and it has neither targeted Islamic nor Arab countries or any other country in the world,” the statement said, adding that the group had always limited its battle to “the Zionist enemy”.
A Jordanian government spokesman said on Tuesday security forces had seized rocket launchers and other weapons from a Hamas arms cache and had scrapped a visit by new Palestinian foreign minister and senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar.
A Hamas official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters the cancellation of Zahar’s trip was due to American and Israeli pressure on Jordan to avoid contact with the Hamas-led government.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rdaineh said Abbas told Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdelelah al-Khatib in a phone conversation that any harm to the Jordanians was also an act against his own people.
“President Abbas considers any harm that befalls the security of Jordan to also harm Palestinian security. The Palestinian people’s best interest is to preserve the security and sovereignity of Jordan,” Abu Rdaineh quoted Abbas as saying.
Hamas, an Islamist faction sworn to Israel’s destruction which took over the Palestinian government in March after winning January elections, was also accused of using Jordan to engage in anti-Israeli activities.
In Amman, Jordan’s powerful Islamist opposition party also accused the government of joining U.S.-led efforts to isolate Hamas by trumpeting up charges that the group had stored weapons on its soil to destabilise the kingdom.
“I think the Jordanian government has responded to these pressures and bets on the failure of Hamas’s government in its task of leading the Palestinian people,” Zaki Bani Irsheid, the general-secretary of the Islamic Action Front Party (IAF) said.
“We cast doubt on the authenticity of this official version because it does not have any credibility and is subject to doubts on our side,” Bani Irsheid, whose party is the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters.
Zahar is touring Arab states to urgently try to raise funds after the United States and other world powers suspended direct aid, saying Hamas must renounce violence and recognise Israel and past interim peace deals.
“We regret the way the Jordanian government used (this) to justify the cancellation of the visit by Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar at the last moment,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Naser al-Shaer, also from Hamas, said the new government was not involved.
Dozens of Palestinian security men demonstrated in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah in support of Hamas, while militants from several factions said in a statement they “fully support the position of the Palestinian government to reject the recognition of the Israeli occupation”.
Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and has helped mediate some of its negotiations with the Palestinians. Zahar’s visit to Jordan would have been the first by a top Hamas leader since Amman expelled the group’s leadership in 1999.
Jordanian officials privately support U.S.-led efforts to isolate the Hamas government unless it embraces Middle East peacemaking.
Zahar’s first stop late last week was Egypt, which is the only other Arab country to have a peace treaty with Israel, but he was unable to meet its foreign minister, who was out of Cairo at the time. Officials denied Zahar had been snubbed.
Hamas has a large following in Palestinian camps across Jordan. Much of Jordan’s population is of Palestinian origin.