Palestinian PM unharmed after explosion targets convoy in Gaza Strip
MAHMUD HAMS (AFP)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah escaped unharmed after an explosive device detonated as his motorcade entered the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.
Hamdallah, who was accompanied by the Palestinian Authority's top intelligence official Majed Faraj, was making a rare visit to Gaza to inaugurate a new wastewater treatment plant.
An explosive device detonated some 200 meters after his convoy entered the Strip through the Erez border crossing at 10:00 a.m. local time. Gunfire was reported shortly after the explosion.
Neither Hamdallah nor Faraj were injured, but seven of the Prime Minister's bodyguards were lightly wounded. Israel offered medical assistance to the casualties, but all were treated in Ramallah.
A statement on official Palestinian media said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas considered the incident a "cowardly targeting" of Hamdallah's convoy meant to scupper attempts to achieve Palestinian unity, adding that Abbas held Hamas responsible.
“Whoever carried out this act directly serves the interest of the Israeli occupation, the main beneficiary from the division," the statement added.
Abbas was set to convene a meeting with his security chiefs in response to the attack.
PA intelligence chief Majed Faraj, said that while it was "too early" to accuse anyone of perpetrating the attack "those who are in charge shoulder the full responsibility for security on the ground."
A spokesperson for the PA's security forces, meanwhile, said that officials in Ramallah do not trust Hamas to properly probe the explosion and called on the group to recuse itself from the investigation.
Distancing itself from the incident, Hamas issued its own condemnation calling it an attack on Palestinian reconciliation and suggesting Israel was involved.
"The Palestinian Islamic Movement Hamas condemns targeting the convoy of Dr Rami Hamadallah and considers it part of the attempts to destabilize the security in the Gaza Strip, as well as an attempt to undermine ongoing efforts to achieve the national unity and internal reconcilaiiton (sic)" an English-language statement from the group said.
"Hamas stresses that those, who targeted Hamadallah’s convoy, are the same people who assassinated martyr Mazen Faqha and attempted to assassinate Major General Tawfiq abu-Naim," it added.
The group was referring to the shooting death last May of Faqha in an attack Hamas blamed on Israel's internal security agency, the Shin Bet.
Radical Islamists opposed to Hamas also operate within the Gaza Strip and have regularly been behind unrest.
A Hamas spokesman said that a number of arrests had been made, and that security forces were investigating the incident.
Hamdallah, who had been expected to hold a number of other engagements in the territory, left the Hamas-run enclave through the Erez crossing after speaking briefly at the water treatment facility's opening.
Back in Ramallah, Hamdallah described the attack as "well prepared", according to Wafa, saying that the bomb had been buried two meters into the ground.
“This attack will not prevent us from completing our work in Gaza and achieving national reconciliation,” he is quoted as saying.
The attack came as the White House was due to hold a conference on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, which Palestinian officials were not expected to attend amid a freeze in ties with Washington over US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, in reference to the attack on Hamdallah's convoy, blasted the lack of a "real government" in the Palestinian enclave.
#Palestinians in Gaza need a real government that will provide basic services—not today’s attack on #PA officials trying to inaugurate a water treatment plant desperately needed in #Gaza @usaid @jdgreenblatt45 @USAmbIsrael #israel— Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox) March 13, 2018
The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mlandenov, also condemned the incident and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
"Until the legitimate Palestinian Authority is fully empowered in Gaza, Hamas has the responsibility to ensure that the government is able to carry out its work in the Strip without dear of intimidation, harassment, and violence," Mlandenov said in a statement.
He commended Hamdallah for his "leadership and continuing efforts to address the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and achieve reconciliation."
"Those who committed today's attack seek to undermine these efforts and destroy the chances for peace. They must not be allowed to succeed," Mlandenov said.
Hamdallah's visit to Gaza on Tuesday, planned five months ago, was his second visit to the Strip since the two rival Palestinian factions signed a reconciliation agreement in October that was supposed to see the Islamist Hamas cede power, but has all but collapsed.
One of the key changes in that agreement was Hamas handing over control at Gaza's borders to the Palestinian Authority in November.
But Hamas maintains full control of the rest of Gaza, with its police force and armed wing still operating throughout the territory.
The future of that armed wing, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, has proved one of the largest sticking points in implementing the reconciliation agreement.
Hamas seized Gaza from the PA in a near civil war in 2007 and multiple attempts at reconciliation have since failed.
Hamdallah's government is recognized by the international community, while Hamas is blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States.
Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza since 2007, which it says is necessary to isolate Hamas, while Egypt has also kept its border with the enclave largely closed.
AFP contributed to this report.
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