AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A high-profile visit to Jordan by the leader of Hamas has revived contacts with the Palestinian militant group, but Jordan will not lift a ban on its activities there, a senior Jordanian official said Sunday.
Khaled Mashaal's visit was part of Jordan's efforts to engage with previously shunned Islamists, who have been gaining ground across the region in Arab Spring uprisings.
"It will only break the ice, following years of estrangement," said the official, who was attending talks between Khaled Mashaal and Jordan's King Abdullah II, "but Hamas will not be allowed to reopen its offices in Jordan."
Re-establishing contact with Hamas also positions Jordan to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mashaal holds a Jordanian passport, but the kingdom expelled him and four other Hamas leaders in 1999 for "illicit and harmful" activities, forcing Mashaal to set up camp in exile in Syria, from where he has led his group's political bureau. With the harsh Syrian government crackdown on protesters — including some Palestinians in Syria — Mashaal is looking for a new place to operate.
Jordan blacklisted Hamas after an alleged weapons cache was discovered in the country six years ago.
Since then, Mashaal was allowed to enter Jordan twice on humanitarian grounds — in August 2009 to attend his father's funeral, and again last October to visit his ailing mother.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting on Sunday, Mashaal said Hamas was eager to develop "close and unique relations" with Jordan. He suggested more meetings could follow.
"Hamas also cares for Jordan's security and stability," he said.
Mashaal also acknowledged "limits and ceilings" in the relationship, which he said Hamas "respects," but he did not say if the group asked the king to reopen its offices here.
Jordanian officials said the matter was not raised.
The visit was arranged by the crown prince of Qatar, which is helping Hamas find a new home.
Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip violently in 2007, opposes a peace deal with Israel.
Jordan, a key U.S. Mideast ally, has a signed peace treaty with Israel. It strongly advocates a negotiated settlement to the lingering Arab-Israeli conflict.
A revival of contacts with Hamas would also allow Jordan to mediate between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the moderate Fatah faction and Hamas — his arch foe since 2007. Egypt has been trying to broker an agreement between both sides.
Jordan hosted five meetings between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators this month in a bid to have them restart their peace talks.
Jordanian Prime Minister Awn al-Khasawneh repeatedly said that expelling Mashaal was a "legal and constitutional mistake which must be corrected."