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Jordan and Syria expel ambassadors

Jordanian authorities declare the Syrian ambassador 'persona non grata' and the Syrians have responded by expelling the Jordanian ambassador
Jordan has received more than 600,000 Syrian refugees since the civil war began three years ago (AFP)

Jordan on Monday expelled Syria's ambassador to Amman, Bahjat Suleiman, over his "repeated insults" to the kingdom, giving him 24 hours to leave, while Syria has responded by ordering the Jordanian ambassador to leave Damascus.

"The government considers the Syrian ambassador to Jordan persona non grata and has demanded he leave the country within 24 hours," foreign ministry spokesperson Sabah Rafi said, quoted by state-run news agency Petra.

"The decision comes after Suleiman's repeated insults to Jordan and its leadership, institutions and citizens, through his meetings, writings and social media websites," she said.

Rafi said the government in Jordan, which is hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Syrian conflict, had "repeatedly warned Suleiman not to exploit Jordanian hospitality."

"Suleiman used Jordan as a platform to question its positions and make false accusations and allegations against the kingdom," she said.

The Syrian government has responded by expelling the Jordanian representative in Damascus.

"The Syrian foreign ministry will order the expulsion of the Jordanian charge d'affaires to Damascus, after the Jordanian foreign ministry declared the Syrian ambassador to Amman persona non grata," said Al-Ikhbariya television.

"In response to the Jordanian government's baseless decision to declare the Syrian ambassador to Amman persona non grata, the Syrian government has decided to declare the Jordanian charge d'affaires in Damascus persona non grata," said a Syrian foreign ministry statement.

Jordanian authorities say they "repeatedly warned Suleiman not to exploit Jordanian hospitality" and that he "used Jordan as a platform to question its positions and make false accusations and allegations against the kingdom", according to spokesperson Rafi.

Last June, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told Suleiman to stop criticising the country or risk expulsion.

The warning came after Suleiman attacked Jordan for hosting a meeting of the anti-regime "Friends of Syria" group, which includes Jordan, calling it "a meeting of Syria's enemies".

He also sharply criticised Jordan after the United States decided last year to send the kingdom a Patriot missile battery, F-16 fighters and troops to counter the threat posed by Syria's civil war.

"Jordanians are ignorant. They should know that Syria has... missiles, which are very, very effective against Patriot missiles," Suleiman said last year on Facebook.

He has in the past described the around 600,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan as "terrorists."

Rafi said that "Suleiman's insults exceeded diplomatic norms, practices and accords."

Amman has repeatedly expressed fears the brutal war in neighbouring Syria could spread and warned of the impact of jihadists among anti-regime fighters.

Damascus, for its part, accuses Amman of backing the three-year uprising against President Bashar al-Assad by training and arming rebels.

Jordan denies the charges, stressing it has tightened its border and jailed dozens of militants trying to cross illegally.

Amman has taken in the flood of refugees, backed international resolutions on Syria, while at the same time trying not to provoke Damascus.