AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan said on Tuesday a group of Hamas militants arrested last week were close to staging attacks inside the kingdom on orders from the Palestinian group’s Syrian-based leadership.
“Security interrogations with the detained suspects had proven they received instructions to execute operations from leaders of Hamas and specifically one of the military officials of Hamas currently based in Syria,” government spokesperson Nasser Joudeh told Reuters.
“They (the attacks) had reached a stage of implementation targeting installations and people in Jordan,” he added.
Joudeh, who did not disclose how many Hamas activists had been arrested last week, said one of the detainees had led security officials to a hideout near the border with Syria in northern Jordan where large quantities of weapons and rocket launchers had been found.
Jordan said last week that rocket launchers and highly combustible explosives seized from a secret Hamas arms cache in the kingdom had been smuggled from Syria, where the Palestinian militant groups’ exiled leadership is based.
Hamas denied the accusations, saying it has never targeted Jordan or any country other than Israel.
U.S. ally Jordan has over the years accused Damascus-based radical Palestinian groups opposed to Middle East peacemaking of either plotting attacks inside the kingdom or trying to smuggle arms to launch attacks against Israel from its territory.
A security official told Reuters that while they were concerned the activists and the smuggled weapons had come from Syria there was no proof that Damascus condoned such activities.
Hamas leaders have had a rocky relationship over the years with Amman, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and has strong security cooperation with its western neighbor.
Jordanian officials privately support U.S.-led efforts to isolate the Hamas government diplomatically and financially unless it embraces Middle East peacemaking.
Hamas’s politburo chief Khaled Meshaal, a Jordanian citizen, was expelled in 1999 along with other leaders after a crackdown on the group following accusations of illegal activities.
Meshaal who is the overall leader of the group along with leading Jordanian members have been based in Syria since he was forced to leave Jordan.
The militant group has a large following in refugee camps across Jordan, a country which hosts the largest number of Palestinian refugees outside the West Bank and Gaza.