Hamas: PA Intelligence Officials Operated Jihadi Cell in Attempt to Kill Palestinian PM

The group says a Salafi cell was behind the failed assassination attempt on Rami Hamdallah in Gaza last month, with PA intelligence people operating the jihadis

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, right, after the explosion during his visit to the Gaza Strip in March 2018.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

Tensions between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority rose again Saturday after the Hamas-led government in Gaza reiterated that people in PA intelligence were implicated in the assassination attempt against Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah last month.

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At a press conference held by the Interior Ministry in Gaza, spokesman Iyad al-Bazam said a Salafi jihadist cell in the Strip was behind the failed assassination attempt. The cell was operated by senior figures in PA intelligence in Ramallah, Bazam said, adding that the Salafi jihadists were also active in northern Sinai.

Since soon after the incident, Hamas blamed PA intelligence for the attempt on Hamdallah’s life. PA officials, for their part, said that the plot was the work of senior Hamas officials and that the real target was Majid Faraj, the head of the PA intelligence service. Faraj was with Hamdallah in the motorcade that was hit on March 13 shortly after entering the Strip.

According to Bazam, members of the cell who were arrested by Hamas said the operation's main goal was to undermine security in the Gaza Strip, stoke chaos and show that the Hamas security agencies were incapable of controlling the situation. He added that the cell had also planned to target foreign delegations visiting the Strip and the Egyptian security delegation that is monitoring the implementation of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

At the press conference, Hamas said it was no coincidence that Faraj chose to ride with Hamdallah rather than in his own vehicle for the motorcade. The group also claimed that the explosion occurred after Hamdallah’s vehicle was past the place where the explosives had been planted — far enough away to guarantee that he and Faraj would not be hurt.

At a later press conference Saturday, Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said senior officials in the Palestinian intelligence service in Ramallah and figures close to Faraj were behind the operation of cells that wreak damage on security and public safety in Gaza and the northern Sinai.

Around two weeks ago, Haaretz reported on an unplanned visit by Faraj to Cairo to meet with Egyptian intelligence officials. According to some assessments, the purpose of the visit was to present evidence to Egypt about the forces behind the assassination attempt.

Saturday’s announcement comes just two days before the Palestine National Council is due to meet in Ramallah. The PNC is the Palestinian parliament in exile and highest political body, responsible for decisions on PLO institutions including the PLO Executive Committee.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted on holding the session in Ramallah. Key factions including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine have said they will boycott the event.