AMMAN  - Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal met Sunday with King Abdullah II on his first official visit to Jordan since his 1999 expulsion, calling the trip a “new good start” towards better ties with the kingdom. “We are happy with this new good start ... We are keen on building strong ties with Jordan and on its security, stability and interests,” Meshaal was quoted as saying in a palace statement after the meeting. “With this new chapter in relations with Jordan, we hope Jordanian and Palestinian interests will be served,” said the leader of the Palestinian Islamic movement. Meshaal, who has Jordanian nationality, blasted Israel.

“Hamas stands firm against Israel’s schemes to turn Jordan into a substitute homeland. Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine. We insist on restoring Palestinian rights,” he said.

Meshaal, whose visit came after Qatari mediation, arrived in Amman with Doha’s crown prince, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

“Jordan supports the Palestinian Authority as well as Palestinian reconciliation,” the king told Meshaal at the meeting, attended by Sheikh Tamim and a Hamas political bureau delegation, including number two Mussa Abu Marzuk.

“Uniting the Palestinian stand will strengthen the Palestinian people and help restore their rights,” said the king, whose country aims to help efforts at inter-Palestinian reconciliation.

The Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, has said the visit seeks to “boost political cooperation, reorganise ties with Jordan and study the means to open a Hamas office in Amman.”

But Jordanian government spokesman Rakan Majali said before the visit that the issue was “not on the agenda. They did not ask for that anyway.”

Jordan’s powerful opposition Islamists, who are ideologically close to Hamas, hailed Meshaal’s visit.

“The meeting today (Sunday) is historic. Qatari mediation is supporting the palace’s efforts to reformulate Jordan-Hamas relations in line with national interests,” the Muslim Brotherhood said on its website.

Domestically, the visit is likely to help improve ties between the regime and Jordan’s Islamists, who have since January 2011 led an Arab Spring-inspired movement for political and economic reforms and for an end to corruption.

Jordan, which mediated five rounds of informal Israeli-Palestinian talks this month, is trying to support reconciliation between Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

Amman also wants to maintain its support for Abbas as well as its relations with Israel under the two countries’ 1994 peace treaty.

Relations between Hamas and Jordan have been strained since 1999, when the authorities expelled Meshaal and three other Hamas members after the group was accused of threatening the kingdom’s security and stability.

Jordan-Hamas ties soured further in 2006 after Amman alleged that members of the group had smuggled weapons into the kingdom from neighbouring Syria, where the Hamas leadership is based.

Jordanian Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh, a former International Criminal Court judge, said when he formed his government in November that the expulsion of Hamas leaders had been “a constitutional and political error.”

Meshaal, who survived a 1997 assassination attempt in Amman by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, has also made two shorts visits to Jordan since 1999 to attend his father’s funeral and see his ailing mother.