Years after expulsion, Meshaal embarks on official visit to Jordan

Meshaal visit comes after Qatari mediation

AMMAN - Khaled Meshaal, political chief of the Hamas movement that rules Gaza, is due in Jordan on Sunday on his first official visit since he was expelled in 1999, the government spokesman said.
"Khaled Meshaal will visit Jordan on Sunday, along with the Crown Prince of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Tamim al-Thani," Rakan Majali, who is also information minister, said on Tuesday.
"King Abdullah II will receive the Prince of Qatar and Meshaal," whose visit comes after Qatari mediation.
Majali said Meshaal would meet several government officials, without elaborating.
"His visit is part of a new chapter in relations between Jordan and Hamas. But this will not be at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, which is the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," he added.
"Reopening Hamas offices in Amman is not on the agenda. They did not ask for that anyway."
However, Hamas spokesman in Gaza Sami Abu Zuhri said the visit seeks to "boost political cooperation, reorganise ties with Jordan and study the means to open a Hamas office in Amman."
"The trip is also aimed at facing Israeli schemes to abolish Palestinian refugees' right of return and turn Jordan into a substitute homeland for Palestinians," Abu Zuhri said.
Relations between Hamas and Jordan have remained strained since 1999, when the authorities expelled Meshaal along with three other members of the Palestinian Islamist movement.
Hamas was accused at the time of threatening the security and stability of Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.
Jordanian Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh said in November that the expulsion of Hamas leaders from Jordan had been "a constitutional and political error."
Local news reports have repeatedly talked about Qatar's mediation and the visit, which "has been slow to officially materialise due to Sheikh Hamad's schedule," while at the same time Jordan sought to calm Palestinian Authority fears.
Amman is currently hosting informal Israeli-Palestinian talks, the first in 16 months.
This, analysts say, is an opportunity for Jordan to show that any normalisation with Hamas would not affect Amman's recognition of the Palestinian Authority.
At the same time, Jordan will maintain its relations with Israel under their 1994 peace treaty, regardless of a reform process initiated by the kingdom.
Jordan-Hamas ties soured further in 2006 after Amman alleged members of the group smuggled arms into the kingdom from neighbouring Syria.
Meshaal, who escaped a 1997 assassination attempt in Amman by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, has made two shorts visits to Jordan to attend his father's funeral and see his ailing mother.