Hamas Arrests Suspects After Three Killed in Gaza Explosions

Hamas-run interior ministry declares state of emergency in the strip

Palestinians carry a body of a policeman following an explosion targeted a Hamas police checkpoint in Gaza City, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
Khalil Hamra,AP

Explosions hit two police checkpoints in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, killing three officers and wounding several other Palestinians, the Hamas-run interior ministry said, declaring a state of emergency after the blasts.

Such attacks on Hamas, which has the most powerful armed apparatus in the enclave, are extremely rare. 

Gaza's interior ministry said the attacks had been two suicide bombings.

Palestinians check a damaged police container following an explosion targeted a Hamas police checkpoint in Gaza City, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
Khalil Hamra,AP

According to a Palestinian source, the blasts were ordered by Majed Faraj, the Palestinian intelligence chief, and was an attempt by Ramallah's intelligence service to sow chaos. The source added that senior Fatah official Mahmoud al-Aloul’s opposition to statements denouncing the attack “reflect its sympathy for the plot.”

"Two persons blew themselves up at two police checkpoints in Gaza (Tuesday) night," Eyad Al-Bozom, spokesman of the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, told Reuters. 

Palestinian Hamas masked gunmen stand guard around blood on the ground following an explosion targeted a Hamas police checkpoint in Gaza City, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019.
Khalil Hamra,AP

"We uncovered their identities and are continuing an investigation to discover the party that stood behind them," he said. 

Thousands of Palestinians took part Wednesday in funerals of the policemen killed the previous night.

Hamas set up additional checkpoints across Gaza, inspecting passing cars and travelers’ IDs. Its interior ministry said arrests had been made but did not elaborate.

According to the BBC, suicide bombers affiliated with the Islamic State carried out the attacks. In addition, one of the bombers was previously held in Hamas custody, BBC cited a security source as saying.

A spokesman for the Israeli military said he knew of no involvement by Israel in the back-to-back incidents in Gaza city at a time of simmering cross-border confrontations with Hamas, the Palestinian enclave's ruling Islamists. 

A security officer close to the investigation told The Associated Press that in the second blast at a traffic police checkpoint on Gaza City’s coastal road, a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing a policeman. The family of the assailant was summoned and identified their son.

Less than an hour earlier, a motorbike exploded at a similar checkpoint 2 miles (3 kilometers) away, killing two officers. 

Tuesday’s attacks was the first coordinated suicide bombings aimed at local Palestinian targets, though in 2017, a fugitive jihadist blew himself up when Hamas security forces stopped him while trying to cross Gaza’s border into Egypt, killing a security officer.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh released a statement, saying that "the explosions will not discourage us. Gaza is above all conspiracy attempts and no strike or blockade will subdue it."

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza said that "we stand by the police and security services in their battle against malicious attempts to hurt us from within, and harshly condemn the criminal explosions aimed against police checkpoints. The agents of the occupation are the only ones gaining from the explosions." 

Palestinian Hamas security forces stand guard at the hospital following an explosion in Gaza City August 27, 2019.
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

The statement added that the main beneficiary from the blasts were "the agents of the occupation," but stopped short of elaborating or explicitly accusing Israel of the attack.  

Hamas, which took over Gaza in a 2007 civil war with the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, has at times faced internal opposition from more stringent Islamist militants aligned with al Qaeda or Islamic State.