(CNSNews.com) - Jordan has deported four jailed leaders of the militant Palestinian organization Hamas, and freed from prison 20 others on condition they stop carrying out its activities on Jordanian soil.
The Palestinian Authority quickly offered Hamas the opportunity to relocate its "political bureau" to the autonomous areas.
A government statement said Jordan had announced a total ban on future activities of Hamas in the kingdom and said it would take "firm action" against any attempt to revive its activities.
"The government is aware of Hamas' right to carry out activities in any way it deems appropriate on Palestinian soil but rejects its presence on Jordanian soil and will deal firmly with any attempt to use Jordanian territory illegally," it said.
The men were arrested in August, after King Abdallah was pressured by the U.S. and Israel to act against the organization, which violently opposes the Oslo process.
Prime Minister Abdur-Rauf Rawabdeh said the four leaders had been allowed to leave for Qatar, whose leader, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, had agreed to "host" them at Abdallah's request.
The four leaders are Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal, official spokesman Ibrahim Ghosheh, and two other bureau officials, Izzat Resheq and Sami Khater.
Since their arrest two months ago, Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood movement has been involved in efforts to mediate between Hamas and the government, but Jordanian media report that they refused to voluntarily leave the country or cut their ties with Hamas.
Like the majority of the Jordanian population, Mashaal and the others are Palestinians as well as Jordanian citizens. Upon arriving in the Qatari capital, Doha, Mashaal complained of what he called "compulsory deportation" and said as Jordanian citizens "nobody has the right to send us away from home."
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Ben Jassem told a Gulf television station that the Hamas leaders would not be allowed to carry out any Hamas activities in the country, but added that they were free to leave Qatar at any time, Jordan Times reports
Despite Hamas' often violent opposition to the Oslo peace process undertaken by Israel and the PA, the Palestinian Communications Minister Imad Faluji Sunday invited Hamas to transfer its offices to the PA areas. Faluji is himself a former Hamas activist.
The Jordanian newspaper also noted that, in its statement, the government had alluded to threats Hamas might have posed to the national security of Jordan itself.
"While we refuse to meddle in the internal affairs of others," the statement said, "we confront anyone who tries to meddle in our affairs no matter what cover he uses or what aims he presents for his illegal acts."
The four deported leaders are suspected by police of gathering sensitive security information relating to Jordan.
Ironically, Abdallah's father, the late King Hussein, is credited with saving Mashaal's life after the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, botched an attempt to assassinate him on an Amman street in September 1997.
Hussein was incensed that an attempt to poison Mashaal took place in Jordan, and demanded that Israel fly in an antidote needed to save the Hamas leader. He also secured Israel's agreement to free the imprisoned spiritual leader of the group, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
The Israeli government stressed that Mashaal was a key figure in the organization's terrorist infrastructure, and linked directly to a spate of suicide bombings in Jerusalem.
Hamas, which considers all of Israel occupied Arab territory, has carried out dozens of suicide bombings in Israel since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, killing hundreds.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak's office yesterday commended the Jordanian action.