Hamdallah assassination attempt rekindles row over Gaza security

The attack will likely delay a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah.
Wednesday 14/03/2018
Members of the Hamas security forces inspect the crater at the site of an explosion that targeted the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah during his visit to the Gaza Strip, on March 13. (AFP)
Hamas security forces inspect the crater where an explosion targeted the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah during his visit to the Gaza Strip, on March 13. (AFP)

LONDON - An attack apparently targeting the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah entering the Gaza Strip put the spotlight on the dispute between Hamas and Fatah over which group should take charge of security in the area.

Neither Hamdallah nor General Majid Faraj, the head of the PA’s intelligence services and who was in the convoy, was harmed after a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy but six guards were injured and three vehicles were damaged, Palestinian media reported.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack but it is thought that radical militants in Gaza opposed to both the Islamist movement of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) may have been behind it.

Hamdallah’s visit was part of reconciliation efforts between the PA, which he represents, and Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 when it ousted forces loyal to Fatah.

There are major points of disagreement between the two sides, including who is to control security in Gaza. So far, Hamas has refused to disarm.

Hamdallah said the attack was “well-planned” as the assailants had “planted explosive devices 2 metres deep.”

The Palestinian prime minister said: “This incident won't stop us from our work in Gaza and won't stop us from the reconciliation.”

Both sides accused an unspecified third party of seeking to undermine reconciliation efforts. Hamas branded the attack a crime that aims to “hurt efforts to achieve unity and reconciliation.” It said it began an “urgent” investigation and made several arrests.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said: “The attack against the government of consensus is an attack against the unity of the Palestinian people.”

The PA said in a statement that it held Hamas responsible for the attack because the group had failed to properly secure the area. UN Middle East Envoy Nickolay Mladenov said Hamas is responsible for the safety of Palestinian officials until the PA regains control of Gaza.

Hamdallah reiterated his call for Hamas to hand over control of Gaza's security forces to the PA.

“We are talking about internal security -- the police and the civil defence,” Hamdallah said. “Without security there won't be a government.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri charged that Hamdallah’s comments “arouse suspicion over the motives of the attack.”

The attack will likely delay a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah, observers said. “What is clear is that, even though the two senior PA officials escaped the blast without injury, the efforts led by Egypt to effect a reconciliation between the two Palestinian factions have suffered a mortal blow,” wrote Amos Harel in Haaretz.

The tensions came as the White House had a conference on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

“[The Trump] administration believes that deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Gaza require immediate attention,” US special envoy Jason Greenblatt said in a statement before the conference. “We are pleased with the committed list of attendees, which includes many of the relevant parties and anticipate a robust dialogue.”

Palestinians officials did not attend the conference because of US President Donald Trump’s announcement in December recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Representatives from Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman attended the meetings but few details emerged of the discussions.

“In order for peace to be within our grasp, we must first improve the conditions on the ground to create hope and opportunity,” Greenblatt said at the conference.