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Jordan open to ‘all options’ as Gaza conflict intensifies

flares are dropped by israeli forces over gaza city
Flares are dropped by Israeli forces, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Gaza City November 6, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Al-Masri

Jordan said on Monday it was leaving “all options” open in its response to what it called Israel’s failure to discriminate between military and civilian targets in its intensifying bombardment and invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Bisher al Khasawneh did not elaborate on what steps Jordan would take, days after it recalled its ambassador from Israel in protest at Israel’s offensive in Gaza after a cross-border Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

Jordan also announced last week that Israel’s ambassador, who left Amman shortly after Hamas’ attack, would not be allowed to come back, effectively declaring him persona non grata.

“All options are on the table for Jordan in our dealing with the Israeli aggression on Gaza and its repercussions,” Khasawneh, whose country signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, told state media.

Khasawneh said Israel’s siege of the densely populated Gaza was not self-defence as it maintains. “The brutal Israeli attack does not discriminate between civilian and military targets and is extending to safe areas and ambulances,” he said.

Israel has denied deliberately targeting civilian objects in heavily populated areas, saying Hamas was using civilians as human shields, had dug tunnels under hospitals and was using ambulances to transport its fighters.

Jordan is reviewing its economic, security and political ties with Israel and may freeze or revoke parts of its peace treaty if the Gaza conflict worsens, diplomats familiar with Jordanian thinking said.

The Israel-Hamas war has reawakened long-standing fears in Jordan, home to a large population of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. They fear that Israel could expel Palestinians en masse from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Israeli settler attacks on Palestinian inhabitants have surged since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

Such worries have increased since Israel’s religious-nationalist ruling coalition, its most right-wing government ever, took office last year, with some hardliners espousing the “Jordan is Palestine option”.

King Abdullah voiced these concerns during talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, warning of widespread violence in the West Bank and mainly Arab-inhabited east Jerusalem if attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinian civilians are not curbed, officials said.

Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said any move to drive Palestinians across to Jordan, which shares a border with the West Bank, was a “red line” amounting to a declaration of war.

“Any attempt to expel Palestinians in an attempt by Israel to change geography and demography we will confront,” Safadi said last week.

The Jordanian army has already fortified its positions along its borders, security sources said.

The U.S. ally fears a spillover of the violence in a country where pro-Palestinian sentiment is widespread and anger against Israel has led to large rallies in support of Hamas.

Jordan’s worries have taken centre stage in talks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken since the Gaza war erupted and are likely to be raised in a meeting with CIA Director William Burns during a stopover in Jordan shortly, diplomats said.

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