Palestinian Prime Minister Survives Gaza Assassination Attempt

Rami Hamdallah, who was traveling with Palestinian intelligence chief, was unhurt and vows to continue reconciliation efforts ■ Several suspects arrested

A damaged vehicle of the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah is removed after an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip March 13, 2018
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

An explosion went off Tuesday morning near a convoy carrying Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who is visiting the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority initially blamed Hamas for the explosion, which it said targeted Hamdallah's convoy.

>>Assassination attempt on Palestinian PM failed, but dealt mortal blow to reconciliation | Analysis

Later Tuesday, however, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh spoke with Hamdallah and the two agreed that Israel and its collaborators are responsible. The Palestinian leaders also agreed that General Tawfiq Abu Naim, head of Gaza's Interior Ministry, will lead the investigation into the incident.  

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According to reports, several people were lightly wounded in the incident. Gaza's Interior Ministry said several suspects have been arrested and a manhunt is underway.

>> Who is Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah? >>

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Hamdallah entered the Strip at 10 A.M. with Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj for a visit that was planned five months ago. The purpose of the visit was to open a waste treatment plant that the Palestinian Authority helped finance. Hamdallah also met with senior Hamas officials on the subject of the stalled reconciliation talks between Hamas and the PA.

The explosion went off when Hamdallah's convoy had driven some 200 meters into the Gaza Strip after entering through Erez Crossing on the Israeli side. According to Arab media, Hamdallah and Faraj were not injured. Hamdallah's convoy left the Strip shortly after incident.

Following the assassination attempt, Hamdallah said he is still committed to Palestinian unity. He added that three cars were damaged as a result of the blast.

"I will return to Gaza despite what happened today and I call on Hamas to allow the government to effectively control the Gaza Strip," Hamdallah said, adding: "What happened today will not stop us from continuing reconciliation efforts."

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah escorted by his bodyguards upon his arrival in Gaza City on March 13, 2018.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP
Palestinians inspect the site of an explosion that targeted a convoy that was carrying Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, in the northern Gaza Strip March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS
A damaged vehicle of the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah is seen after an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip March 13, 2018.
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

"Despite what happened we will continue to build our institutions and we will press on with the reconciliation efforts with the help of Egypt," Hamdallah said. "I call on Hamas and all other factions to take part in the national Palestinian council that will convene in April, because this is a critical phase for the Palestinian people." 

According to Hamdallah, "we will allow no one to destroy the national Palestinian project... we will not allow those with a foreign political agenda to dictate to us what happens in Gaza."

Earlier, Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said the Palestinian Authority's accusations against Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abba's office raises questions regarding their conduct. He says the accusations, made within two minutes of the incident and threatening additional sanctions against the Hamas government, makes suspect PA's motivations.

Immediately after the explosion, senior Palestinian Authority officials contacted Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, asking to coordinate their departure from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military said medical personnel could wait at the Erez Crossing to treat those wounded in the incident.

Hamas condemned the "criminal act" and said it is aimed at harming stability and the reconciliation efforts. Hamas' spokesman added: "We are surprised to hear the direct accusations by the office of the Palestinian President which serve... we call on security forces in the Strip to investigate and bring those responsible to justice."

Al Jazeera quoted Hussein al-Sheikh, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, as saying: "Hamas bears full responsibility for this criminal act. It sets a very dangerous precedent and many decisions and policies will be based on this."

An aide to Faraj told Haaretz that the vehicle that was hit belonged to the intelligence chief, adding that Faraj was riding in Hamdallah's vehicle.

Hamdallah was appointed Palestinian prime minister in June 2013. He was a well-known figure within Palestinian intellectual circles before he was appointed to the post. He is considered an independent figure, not a member of the Fatah party.

Hamdallah was born in Tul-Karm, and previously served as the head of An-Najah University. He holds a doctorate in applicable linguistics, and has held various positions within Palestinian academia.

A member of the Palestinian constitutional committee, Hamdallah was made chief secretary of the Palestinian central elections committee in 2002. The committee organized the Palestinian presidential elections in 2004 and 2006.

Palestinian sources said last week that Faraj, head of the PA’s intelligence service, recently underwent a successful heart operation in the United States, only returning to the West Bank last Friday.