Hamas Says Palestinian Authority Helped Israel Kill Islamic Jihad Commander

Source linked to PA denies group's claim that intel operatives in Gaza trailed Baha Abu al-Ata, collecting information on his whereabouts up until he was killed

Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu Al-Ata attends an anti-Israel military show at Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, June 20, 2019.
MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

Hamas accused the Palestinian Authority of transferring information to Israel that aided in the assassination of senior Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata in a statement released Sunday.

Hamas' interior ministry released a statement saying that it had arrested a PA intelligence cell that collected information on the militant leader, whose November 12 assassination set off a sharp escalation in hostilities between Israel and the Gaza Strip.  

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The PA cell, the statement said, was taking orders from Col. Shaaban Abdullah Algharbawi, who is responsible for the PA's intelligence in the Gaza Strip. Algharbawi is based in Ramallah, but Hamas claims that he directs Gazans to collect intelligence within the Strip on behalf of the PA. The statement added that Algharbawi transferred the information his people collected directly to Israeli intelligence officials.  

Ata commanded Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the northern Gaza Strip. He had several hundred fighters under his command and an arsenal of dozens of rockets at his disposal that could be fired at Israel, Gazan sources claimed. Ata operated independently from Hamas; The Shin Bet and Israel Defense Forces said that he was responsible for most of the rocket and mortar launches at Israel over the past year. 

Following his killing, Islamic Jihad launched hundreds of rockets at Israel, and at least 34 Palestinians, most of them Islamic Jihad militants but also including nine members of a family whose house was erroneously targeted, were killed by Israeli strikes. Hamas largely stayed out of the conflict.  

The PA cell's operatives, Hamas said, trailed Ata for months, tracking his movements and location up until the strike that killed him.

The statement went on to say that though Israel was directly responsible for Ata's killing, the information provided by Algharbawi's cell contributed significantly to the operation. Over the course of the investigation, Hamas said it uncovered materials and evidence that prove the PA's involvement in the strike.     

The Palestinian Authority has not officially responded to Hamas's allegations, but a source affiliated with the PA's security and intelligence services in Ramallah called Hamas's statement a transparent ploy. Its goal, he said, is to attempt to cover up the organization's failures and to prepare for the process of an agreement with Israel.

The source said that Abu al-Ata spoke out mainly against Hamas's policies and its calm vis-à-vis Israel. It is clear, he added, whose interest it serves to be rid of him. 

Senior Fatah official and Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh called the Hamas statement "an attempt to shirk responsibility" by the organization.