"During a telephone conversation between Mr Shalom and his
Jordanian counterpart Marwan Muashir, it was decided by common consent to postpone the visit," said a statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. 

The two ministers "emphasised the importance that the two countries attach to their strategic relations ... and decided that the visit would take place at another date," it added. 

A foreign ministry source in Amman said the "visit was postponed due to technical reasons and it will be rescheduled in the near future." 

Shalom's trip to Amman would have been the first by an Israeli foreign minister to its eastern neighbour since 1999. 

Strained relations

The two states signed a peace accord in 1994. Relations have been strained since the September 2000 outbreak of the Palestinian intifada, with Jordan withdrawing its ambassador in protest against Israeli measures to quell the uprising.

The visit was due to have taken place amid a row between the two sides over Israel's construction of its controversial West Bank separation barrier. 

Fearing a new wave of Palestinian refugees, Jordan has been taking a lead role in the campaign against the project and in
preparations for an upcoming International Court of Justice hearing on its legality. 

"The separation wall presents a direct threat not only to national Palestinian interests and the idea of a Palestinian state but also to Jordan's national security"

Marwan Muashir,
Jordanian Foreign Minister

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned last week that Jordan would damage its ties with Israel with its uncompromising stance over the barrier. 

Amman was "leading" the campaign in the Arab world despite having "much to lose in worsening of its relations," he said. Muashir responded to Sharon's warning at the time by saying: "The separation wall presents a direct threat not only to national Palestinian interests and the idea of a Palestinian state but also to Jordan's national security."

Jordanian prisoners

Coinciding with Shalom's planned visit, Jordan was expecting the release of between 18-20 Jordanian prisoners held by Israel.

Government spokesperson Asma Khadir told reporters that Jordanian officials had visited the prisoners and verified their names and ID numbers.

Israel released 10 Jordanian prisoners on 25 November as the first batch of 81 prisoners currently held in Israel.