Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
25 Nov. - 1 Dec. 1999
Issue No. 457
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

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Out of Amman

Four top Hamas leaders, all of whom carry Jordanian passports, were moved blindfolded and handcuffed from prison in Amman last Sunday night to a Qatari private jet that took them to the Qatari capital Doha where they are expected to remain for some time.

As far as the Jordanian authorities are concerned, the action has effectively closed the case concerning the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement's (Hamas) operations in the country. Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul-Ra'ouf Rawabdeh announced on Sunday that charges had been dropped against 16 other Hamas members, and that the group's top four representatives in Jordan, who had been detained in August, had been "allowed to leave the country" and go to Qatar.

The four leaders however, announced upon their arrival in Doha that their departure had been a "compulsory deportation".

According to Khaled Misha'al, a member of the Hamas Politburo whom Israel tried to assassinate in Amman two years ago, Jordanian police had escorted him and his colleagues from Jeweideh prison in Jordan to a Qatari plane waiting at Marka Airport -- which is used mainly for local flights.

Misha'al told reporters at Doha airport that an official from the Jordanian Court had earlier informed the four that they would be leaving the country on the plane with the Qatari Minister of State Ahmad Ben Abdullah, who had arrived in Amman earlier the same day to accompany them.

But Qatar's Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad Ben Jassem, said that the Emir of Qatar had personally requested the release of the Hamas detainees, something "which was accepted by His Majesty King Abdullah" of Jordan. The minister added that Qatar would not allow the Hamas leaders to perform any political activities on its soil, but added that they would be free to leave the country at any time should they so wish.

While it is not clear if the Hamas leaders will be allowed to re-enter Jordan, Rawabdeh saying that it was still "too early to decide on such a matter," the Jordanian prime minister stressed that those "allowed to leave" would continue to hold Jordanian nationality.

Hamas leaders (L-R) Khater, Ghousheh, Misha'al and Resheq upon arrival at Doha airport from Amman
The four deported leaders, Misha'al, Ibrahim Ghousheh, Izzat Resheq and Sami Khater, although originally Palestinians, are all Jordanian citizens.

Meanwhile, the government's action has caused controversy in Jordan, since according to the country's constitution no Jordanian citizen may be deported.

"The measure is unconstitutional and a violation of human rights," said Saleh Armouti, President of the Jordanian Bar Association and head of a 60-man committee to defend the Hamas detainees.

The Jordanian government last August cracked down on four Hamas offices in the country and issued warrants for the arrest of four of the movement's top leaders. Three of them, then in Iran, insisted on returning to Jordan to face charges that they said were false, and, upon arrival in Amman were arrested by the authorities.

In a further development last Sunday, the Jordanian government also announced a ban on future Hamas activities in Jordan, saying that it would take "firm action" against any attempt to revive the group's activities.

In an official statement, the government said that while it was "aware of Hamas' right to carry out (political) activities in any way it deems appropriate on Palestinian soil", nevertheless, it "rejects Hamas' presence on Jordanian soil and will deal firmly with any attempt to use Jordanian territory illegally".

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been mediating between Hamas and the Jordanian government in the dispute, said that a meeting between its leaders and Rawabdeh on Saturday had failed to avoid the latest escalation. The meeting had been a "tense encounter", Brotherhood members said.

In a statement issued last Monday, the Brotherhood also revealed details of the last stage of negotiations between the government and Hamas before the recent deportations took place. The statement said that while all the main points had been agreed upon, the issue of the right of Hamas leaders to free movement had yet to be decided. The Jordanian government had insisted that leaders of the movement should leave the country within days of their release, while the Hamas leaders, though accepting all Jordanian conditions -- including the closure of Hamas offices in the country and the ending of activities undertaken without prior Jordanian approval -- had refused to leave the country.

Meanwhile the Brotherhood's political wing, the Islamic Action Front Party, issued a statement appealing to all political parties "to stay vigilant with regard to the government's plan to crack down on all opponents to Israel's peace treaty and to normalisation".

The very distance between the terminology employed by the two sides in describing the latest moves -- "compulsory deportation" according to Hamas, "voluntary travel" according to the Jordanian government -- indicates that the Hamas file cannot be easily closed.

Many Jordanian analysts believe that Rawabdeh, far from closing the file, has in fact opened a Pandora's box by the latest moves against Hamas that may adversely affect the future relationship of the Hashemite Monarchy in Jordan with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been one of its traditional allies.

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